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Creating a Backyard Wildlife Habitat: What will it Look Like?
Any way you want it to! Replace your entire lawn with trees, shrubs, ground covers and ponds. Or leave the lawn and create wildlife habitat around the edges or on one side of the yard. At first glance, the habitat you create will look like many other yards but with a greater variety of plants.

The Basic Elements Plants
Getting Started Wildlife Problems
Plan for Success About Cats
Map It Out Safety Around Wildlife
What Kinds of Wildlife to Invite? More Information
Not Sure What You Want?  
The Basic Elements
A backyard wildlife habitat should provide:
  • food
  • water
  • cover
  • a place to reproduce and raise young
Getting Started

Providing for wildlife means planting a variety of native grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and trees. For the hard-pressed homeowner this means less watering, fertilizing, and mowing; and more relaxing, listening and watching.

Plan for Success
You must have a plan on paper! The plan is critical. It doesn't have to be fancy, but it must include the basic wildlife needs. The plan will be the pattern for the entire project. First, consider what you already have: shady and sunny areas; adequate or poor drainage; a rocky area; slight or steep slopes, etc. Then take advantage of native plants adapted to those areas. An especially fun activity is to imitate natural landscapes in your yard: a prairie, a meadow, a wetland , or a small streamside area.
Map It Out
Make a diagram, to scale, of your yard as it currently exists on graph paper (use several pieces taped together if you want a larger picture). Include the house and garage, patios, walkways, outbuildings, etc. Don't forget buried and overhead utility lines. Use symbols for the various vegetation. Make a couple of photocopies of your finished diagram.
Now, color it! Using different-colored highlighting pens, shade in the various uses in the backyard and specific environmental conditions. If you are in a new house and just beginning to landscape, proceed in the same way. Include wet areas, slopes and fences.
Now, try sketching in a variety of habitat elements in different places in your yard. On the extra copies try out different places for different uses until you feel you have it about right. Remember you can always make changes. Don't forget to include places for humans in your Backyard Wildlife Habitat-- perhaps a bench near the pond, or a strategically placed log, or large rocks to provide just the spot for relaxing and watching wildlife. Don't overlook viewing areas from windows or patios.
What kinds of wildlife to invite?
Do butterflies make your heart flutter? Plant a butterfly garden of wildflowers, grasses and shrubs near a shallow pool. Do baby birds and bird song lift your spirits? Plant several potentially large trees. Install nest boxes and feeders in existing trees. What about insects? Consider installing bat boxes. A bat can eat 3,000 mosquitoes in one night. Leave that dead tree in place. Birds will glean insects hiding under and in the bark.
Not sure what you want?
Go for a variety of habitat elements:
  • Brush piles and rock walls attract rabbits, snakes, voles, birds, and mice.
  • A thicket of berry-bearing shrubs is a bird magnet, and provides cover for lots of species.
  • Evergreen trees provide excellent cover in wet and windy weather.
  • Deciduous trees provide food and homes for birds, squirrels, and insects.
  • Keep the basic needs near each other: food, water, cover and space for raising young. A bird bath isolated in the center of turf grass is not very attractive to nervous birds always on the lookout for predators. Generally, animals don't feel comfortable crossing open spaces. Place feeding areas close to shrubs and wildflowers, and plant vegetation around pools and ponds. Remember that small plants grow-leave enough space for plants to mature.
Now that you have a plan, it's time to start deciding on the plants. You may want to install a few plants gradually over a period of several years. For several thousand dollars, you can have an instant landscape in a matter of months. Most people like to do things to improve wildlife habitat every year. It gives them a chance to see what they like, what animals come to visit, and to modify it as they go along. Before you tear anything up consider its wildlife value. Existing trees can be used as starting points to plant additional trees and shrubs nearby.
  • A backyard composed mainly of native plants becomes a haven for native wildlife. These plants provide food, cover and reproductive sites with minimal care from homeowners. The City of Fort Collins has a comprehensive list of native plants and their wildlife value.
  • Go Native! A backyard composed mainly of native plants becomes a haven for native wildlife. These plants provide food, cover and reproductive sites with minimal care from homeowners. The City of Fort Collins has a comprehensive list of native plants and their wildlife value.
  • Don't plant a single golden currant shrub in each corner of the yard. Instead plant several currants together, mix in some wax currant and chokecherry shrubs, creating a "cluster" of shrub habitat.
  • Plant small trees next to tall trees, and shrubs below small trees. Finish with a ground cover of wildflowers and grasses, and finally leave some leaf litter on the ground.
  • An isolated bird bath, feeder or fruit tree will not attract as much wildlife as these same components placed near each other. Wildlife need food, water, and cover close together.
Wildlife Problems
You and wildlife can coexist peaceably, but some wildlife can cause problems in some places. Woodpeckers can peck holes in houses. Often woodpeckers drum on something that makes a loud noise. To discourage them, hang aluminum foil strips nearby, or other bright shiny streamers that blow in the wind. When the woodpeckers leave, repair any damage so they are not tempted to return. Try to provide an alternative drumming site. Woodpeckers and other birds eat lots of insects in dead and decaying wood. Consider leaving that dead branch or tree where it is if it doesn't pose a hazard.
Skunks, raccoons, and squirrels are opportunists, and can become pests and cause property damage. Cover window wells. Patch holes around and under the foundation. Keep all garbage and pet food where wildlife cannot smell it or get to it.
Caterpillars eat lots of foliage, butterflies sip nectar from flowers. These usually occur on different plants. Consider planting foliage for caterpillars near flowers for butterflies.
About Cats
Two excellent studies dramatically confirm that domestic and feral (domestic cats gone wild) cats are significant predators of birds and small mammals. Cats in Wisconsin alone kill 20-150 million songbirds and 140,000 game birds in a single year! Park rangers in San Francisco's Golden Gate park have reported an alarming decline of songbird populations due to one single culprit: Felis domesticus- the domestic cat.
Bird feeders and baths close to sheltering vegetation are desirable, unless there are cats loose in the neighborhood. And what neighborhood is cat-free? Vegetation that provides shelter to birds also gives cats an ideal hiding place.
Safety Around Wildlife
Human injury or illness from wildlife is rare. These tips will ensure your safety:
  • Watch but do not touch! Having birds and animals in your yard is not dangerous as long as you do not touch them. Some birds and mammals carry disease or have disease-carrying fleas on their bodies. If you touch them, even if they are dead, you could get sick.
  • Even though wildlife comes to your yard they are still wild. It is their nature to attack anything that comes too close. Keep your distance and respect their territory.
  • Keep pets protected by making sure they have had their shots.
  • Do not try to assist a wild animal that appears to be ill. If a wild animal appears to be sick, or seems unafraid of you, do not touch it or approach it. Call Animal Control at 226-6147, or the Division of Wildlife at 472-4300.
For More Information:

Cox, Jeff, Landscaping with Nature: Using Nature's Design to Plan Your Yard. Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA.*
Dennis, John V. 1975. A Complete Guide to Bird Feeding. Alfred Knopf, New York.
Dennis, John V. and McKinley, Michael. 1983. How to Attract Birds. Ortho Books. San Francisco.*
Dennis, John V. and Tekulsky, Matthew. 1991. How to Attract Humming Birds and Butterflies. Ortho Books. San Francisco.*
Ernst, Ruth Shaw. 1993. The Naturalist's Garden, Globe Pequot Press, Old Saybrook, CT.*
Harrison, George, 1979. The Backyard Bird Watcher, Simon and Schuster, New York.*
Harrison, George, and Harrison, Kit. 1983. America's Favorite Backyard Birds. Simon and Schuster, New York. *
Holmes, Roger, ed. Taylor's Guide to Natural Gardening. Houghton Miffin, New York.*
Kress, S. W. 1985. The Audubon Society Guide to Attracting Birds. Scribner and Sons, New York.
Mahnken. Jan. 1989, Hosting the Birds, Storey Communications, VT.*
National Wildlife Federation's Backyard Wildlife Program 1-800-432-6564, 8925 Leesburge Pike, Vienna, VA 22184.
National Wildflower Research Center, 2600 FM 973, Austin, TX 78725. Creating a Prairie. List of recommended species for Colorado.

Opler, Paul and Cranshaw, Whitney. Attracting Butterflies to Eastern Colorado Yard and Gardens. Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, SIA Bulletin #5.504.
Schneck, Marcus. 1992. Your Backyard Wildlife Garden. Quatro Publ, London.
Sedenko, Jerry. 1991. The Butterfly Garden. Villard Books, New York.*
Selecting Plants to Attract Birds. Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Bulletin #1209.
Smyser, Carol. 1982. Nature's Design. A Practical Guide to Natural Landscaping. Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA.*
Stokes, Donald and Stokes, Lillian. 1987. The Bird Feeder Book. Little, Brown and Company, New York.*
Stokes Donald, 1983, Guild to Observing Insects' Lives. Little, Brown and Company, New York.*
Stokes, Donald, 1979, Guide to Behavior of Common Birds. Little, Brown and Company, New York.*
Terres, John. 1987. Songbirds in Your Garden. Harper and Row, New York.
Tufts, Craig. 1988. The Backyard Naturalist. National Wildlife Federation.*

*available at Fort Collins Public Library

Through the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program, the City of Fort Collins hopes to increase habitat available to urban wildlife, help residents enhance health and enjoyment factors of their property and provide education and awareness of wildlife and human needs.
The City of Fort Collins has a program for certifying habitats which successfully provide the basic needs of wildlife.

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