Landscaping for Wildlife – Part Three

December 8, 2013

Wildlife Needs Shelter  

Well, here we are at Part 3 of our 4-Part article on Landscaping for Wildlife.  So far we’ve kicked around ideas for providing both food and water, but after a good meal we all want a place we can relax and feel safe – protected from nasty weather, predators and inquisitive humans (I think this can easily be said of all of us).  This is where shelter comes in and it plays a key role in creating the habitat needed for all sorts of critters.

Although I am re-designing a portion of my home landscape to be a native plant garden, I have other areas that I planted out 20 years ago when we moved onto this 1.5 acre parcel simply because I wanted some privacy from the road and neighbors.  One of the screening plants I put in was bamboo – both golden and black.  Now, before you start criticizing me for planting this invasive hedgerow I’ve got to mention that I keep it in a very narrow band and have found that I can keep it under control very well by not watering it through our long, hot California summers.  Bamboo does not like to go thirsty! sparrow

Anyway, this screening of bamboo has turned out to be one of the most popular roosting areas for songbirds in both summer and winter.  The White-Crowned Sparrows particularly like this hide-away as does the Dark-eyed Junco (“Oregon” race).    They can hide deep inside, it’s about 20 feet tall, and there’s plenty of room for the flock to nestle themselves away.  Closer to where I have bird feeders – both a platform feeder and hanging feeders I have Spiraea bushes that tumble across the ground, mounding up to about 3 – 4 feet.  The birds will constantly fly or hop in and out of these bushes to the feeders and back.  The cover these shrubs provide is critical to the birds feeling safe from cats, hawks and some of the larger birds that frequent the feeders – mainly the jays who always seem to be aggressive.   Junco

Shelter can be provided in many different ways.  If your property has a dead tree or two then the cavities that can be found (or hollowed out) will give birds, squirrels, all sorts of animals a place to hide.  Both woodpeckers and owls love this kind of home – like the Acorn Woodpecker and Screech Owl pictures on this page.

woodpecker nest Bird houses are another great way to provide shelter.  Some birds will use the house simply for a place to sleep while others will build nests and raise their young in them.  When either building or purchasing a bird house, know what species you’re trying to attract or keep on the property.  Different birds have different tastes when it comes to the size of the entry hole, the size of the box itself and also the height off the ground and direction it faces.  We have a shop in town called the Wild Bird Station and the owner is a wealth of information and the feeding and nesting habits of our local birds.  Seek out this kind of professional advice before spending a lot of time and/or money on a bird house.  Of course, there’s always the internet if you don’t have the time or inclination to speak to a real human being.

screech owl

If your property is large enough, you may be able to build up some brush piles.  Rather than burn the brush come winter, leave them for the animals to take advantage of.   Birds will sleep deep within them at night; lizards and toads will burrow in and hide and small mammals will use them for protection from predators.  Leave some of those patches of brambles too – the thorns and thick snarl of branches is a great place for wildlife to hide. quail in brush

For helping to expand the diversity of wildlife on your property consider planting hedgerows.  It’s been done in England and Europe for centuries and there’s lot’s of information on it for us newcomers here in the States.

By building the right types of homes for bats and bees you’ll be able to help control flying insects and have more pollinators for your garden.   There are about 4,000 native bees to the United States – and they can all use some help and a home.  While the European honey bee is probably the most familiar, they tend to be a bit lazy when it comes to heading into the garden or orchard during inclement weather.  Our native bees will be out pollinating when honey bees are still in bed, so check with your local ag agency, Master Gardener or college and see what native bees live in your area and what their requirements are when it comes to shelter.  Bumble Bees are another great pollinator to have around.  They’re docile, big and fun to watch.  I’m extremely allergic to honey bee stings (I meant really allergic) but I love having the bumbles around the garden and they’ve never given me any problems at all.

bumble bee

Bats are another garden visitor you should encourage.  Bat houses are easy to build and the number of night-flying insects they eat is staggering – a brown bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour!  But they’ll eat a lot more than mosquitoes, so having them around can help to make a spring or summer evening a lot more pleasant to be out in and enjoy.

Finally, back to ponds and streams – water is the shelter your dragonfly nymphs will use for both home and shelter.  Plants will create safe havens for fish, amphibians and insects.  Toads will take advantage of rock walls, logs and you can set out toad houses for them to snuggle in when they’re not out hunting.

These are just a few ideas – I’m sure you can think up many more so that your wildlife habitat will provide a safe haven for whoever chooses to come and live – or just visit while migrating through.  By providing food, water and shelter you’re fulfilling three critically important components when you’re Landscaping for Wildlife.

Today is Dec. 8, 2013.  On the night of the 6th we had a cold storm blow through that left 4 inches of snow here at the house (2,000 ft. elevation) and temperatures dropping into the teens (Fahrenheit).  The food, water and shelter we provide was (and is) greatly appreciated by the birds and squirrels who visit our garden, such as this Spotted Towhee pictured below.

towhee

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