Natural Food & Shelter Habitat Can Attract Wildlife To Your Back Yard

photo by Tracie Kovener

photo by Tracie Kovener

Water also is an important part of the back yard habitat, in the form of a shallow birdbath or watering hole. Be sure to provide nearby cover.

by Joseph Persinger
If you intend to plant trees, flowers or shrubs this spring, why not choose varieties that will provide nesting sites, protection or even nutritious food for birds, butterflies and honeybees?
That was the question posed at a “back yard habitat landscaping” workshop recently at the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge east of Seymour.
Donna Stanley, park ranger, assisted by Sally Crouch of the Muscatatuck Wildlife Society, shared information about diverse plants that can help sustain populations of songbirds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and honeybees as part of the home landscape.
“The best food is natural,” Stanley told those attending the workshop, “and there are many native plants that provide nutrition.”
When selecting trees to plant, consider diversity, she added, citing varieties such as red cedar, white pine, black gum, hackberry, white oak, and chokeberry, depending on available space and other limitations of the home landscape.
Trees that provide fruit include mulberry, flowering crab, persimmon, Washington hawthorne, and dogwood. Shrubs that produce berries or fruits include serviceberry, wild plum, sumacs, sassafras, elderberry, spicebush, and winterberry holly.
“Birds love dogwood berries,” Stanley commented, “and cedar waxwings like persimmons.” She also noted that the leaves of spicebush provide food for butterfly caterpillars.
She encourages the use of native plants when possible, such as scarlet honeysuckle, trumpet creeper, Virginia creeper, staghorn sumac, wild grapes, and native passionflower.
Stanley said trumpet creeper is very good for attracting hummingbirds, “but it grows fast and can get big,” so be sure you have enough space.
She urged landscapers to avoid pesticides as much as possible, choose food plants for different seasons, and minimize mowing as much as possible.
Stanley said Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks are the main predators of smaller birds in this area and urged homeowners to “provide dense cover so small birds can escape.” This would include shrubs or bushes that the larger hawks cannot penetrate in pursuit of the smaller birds.
When providing nesting habitat, she noted, “different birds have different needs. You can provide nesting boxes, but watch for predators such as raccoons, skunks and snakes — just be aware of that when you’re providing habitat.”
Stanley said the most common hummingbird in this area is the ruby-throated variety, which can live up to 10 years and will return to the same area year after year from mid-April to October.
Many familiar garden flowers provide nectar for hummingbirds, and the common feeder solution is one part sugar to four parts water.
Hummingbirds are attracted to scarlet, orange, red or white tubular-shaped flowers. Butterflies are drawn to bright red and purple flowers, and bees are attracted to bright white, yellow or blue flowers.
Stanley encouraged participants to consider landscaping with plants native to Indiana as recommended by the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society (www.inpaws.org).
She noted that a native plant sale will be held from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Saturday, May 13, at the wildlife refuge as part of the Wings over Muscatatuck Migratory Bird Festival.
She warned against use of invasive species such as purple loosestrife, Japanese honeysuckle, autumn olive, and crown vetch. Invasive plants harm wildlife by choking out the plants native animals need for food and cover. For more information visit www.invasivespecies.in.gov.