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Attract Wildlife to a Backyard Haven
As a child, I can remember my father taking the Christmas tree out of the house at the end of the holiday season and just sticking it into the ground.

This was a cut tree, not a live one. Amazingly, though, it would stay green for quite some time. More than a few visitors thought we'd planted a new tree. The most interesting feature of our little cut tree was the wildlife it would attract in its short duration in our yard.

Many a bird took temporary refuge in the tree trying to rest for the longer flight south. An occasional chipmunk or squirrel would also find a good hiding place in the tree when out searching for food.

It's really no mystery that wildlife was attracted to the old Christmas tree. After all, it provided one of the essential elements to attract wildlife to your yard: shelter. Animals aren't unlike us in that they need three basic elements: food, water and shelter.


Photo: Dan Rahn

Small fruit trees like crab apples can provide both food and shelter for birds and small animals.

Food

Although it's easy to provide some bird seed for our feathered friends, a little more thought can provide a diversity of foods to attract many kinds of wildlife.

Planting some fruit-bearing ornamentals can look attractive while providing a food source and some cover. Varieties such as yaupons, hollies, wax myrtles, blueberries, nandinas, pyracanthas and serviceberries are a few plants that can provide easy meals for birds.

Flowering plants such as crepe myrtles, trumpet vines, honeysuckles, Carolina jasmine and others will be attractive to hummingbirds. You may also choose to hang up a hummingbird feeder, too, to supplement their diet of native foods.

Hanging dried ears of corn from tree limbs will help attract squirrels and chipmunks as the kernels hit the ground. You may want to provide the furry friends their own easily accessible feeder of bird seed. It's a good idea to use a separate feeder with a squirrel-proof pole for the feathered wildlife.

Water

Wild birds and animals need water for drinking, bathing and sometimes for breeding.

You may choose to provide water in a small pond made out of a sunken tub, or perhaps in a birdbath or shallow dish. You may even be lucky enough to have a natural pond or stream flowing through your yard.

When providing water, remember that wildlife needs it year-round. A small pond set into the ground will provide water for drinking, bathing and reproductive areas for small fish, insects, amphibians and reptiles. Control temperatures during winter in your pond with a thermostatically controlled bird bath heater.


Photo: Dan Rahn

When holly berries ripen, they supply food for birds. The branches and spiny leaves provide shelter for birds and small animals.

Shelter

Thick fence rows, dense shrubs, abundant trees of various types and even dead trees provide excellent sources of shelter. When choosing your plants, make sure to include at least one good clump of evergreen trees and shrubs to provide year-round protective cover from weather and predators.

Rock, log and mulch piles offer good cover, too. Small reptiles, amphibians, mammals and an assortment of insects find their home in these structures, which are easy to build.

When providing shelter, remember to provide areas for nesting as well. Dead trees can provide excellent nesting sites for owls, flying squirrels and other creatures.

Rabbits and chipmunks will seek thick cover that they can tunnel under to provide security for their young.

Nest boxes for bluebirds, chickadees, wrens and purple martins can be placed in areas of the yard. Large bird houses with a bigger entrance hole will attract owls, woodpeckers and an occasional squirrel.

By providing the essential ingredients of food, water and shelter, you can turn your yard into a wildlife paradise. The diversity of birds, mammals, insects and other wildlife that may visit your haven will surprise you.

(Bob Westerfield is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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