Use plants, preferably natives, to attract birds and butterflies.
Use plants, preferably natives, to attract birds and butterflies. (Courtesy Julie Gustafson)
Photos Courtesy of Julie Gustafson
Birdsong, butterflies fluttering from plant to plant, a rabbit hopping by: It's not a meadow; it's your backyard.
As spring arrives, turning your yard into a wildlife habitat can beautify your outdoor space and provide refuge to local animals. Whether you live on a multi-acre plot near the foothills or an apartment in an urban area, possibilities are plentiful to create a unique wildlife habitat. Need a little guidance? The National Wildlife Federation has a wildlife habitat certification progra to help turn garden and outdoor space into a refuge for local animal life.
"It's a program meant to engage people where they live," says Julie Gustafson, regional education manager for the Rocky Mountain Field Center of the National Wildlife Federation. "It's hands on conservation, making a difference in your own community for your own benefit and that of local wildlife,"
Beginning in the '70s, the Wildlife Habitat program has evolved to help people understand that providing refuge for local animals doesn't start and end with the backyard. Anyone with a garden, side yard, backyard or just a windowsill for potted plants can attract local fauna to their home.
The National Wildlife Federation works with individuals to evaluate their outdoor space and to understand their goals for the refuge. The nonprofit provides information on native plants species and sustainable gardening practices that minimize the use of chemicals that affect smaller wildlife such as insects and birds.
Ony five elements are needed to create a refuge. Food and water sources are among the most important and easiest components. Depending on the animals you want to attract, knowing which plants and food to supply is key. A water source such as a pond, stream or water garden is also essential. An advanced refuge requires places for cover for small animals to raise young and sustainable gardening practices.
Habitats can be designed to attract a wide variety of species.
"The more layers of cover you provide, the variety of flowers and a variety of bloom times within the flowers you plant, results in a variety of birds and bugs and butterflies you'll see in your yard," Gustafson said. "That way you can have the best diversity of wildlife from the first spring blooms to the latest fall blooms," Gustafson said.
Birds need fruit-bearing shrubs for food and nesting, cover and a water source. A birdbath isn't necessary; a small stream, pond or special feeders can work just fine. Petrea Mah, president of the Boulder County Audubon Society, says it's simple to attract the roughly 25 bird species common locally.
"Mostly you need to get rid of the bluegrass and put in native shrubs and native types of grasses," Mah says. "Then there are covers for the birds who like it on the ground, like the juncos who like to eat on the ground as well as sparrows," Mah said.
Boulder County's unique geography affords a great amount of opportunity for wildlife, but people need to be prudent. Just as in the wild, some animals attract predators, and precautions are needed to ensure the safety of your family and home. For those who live near the foothills, keeping deer from your habitat makes it less attractive to bears and mountain lions.
"Most communities across the country don't have those particular challenges like we do in Boulder," Gustafson says. "And we recognize that, we don't want people to be afraid of their yard. We want them to find it as a refuge for themselves as well as a refuge for local wildlife."