Creating and Managing Wildlife Habitat in Your Yard

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Birds, bees, butterflies and other creatures in our environment bring many of us joy and pleasure. Being outside to observe the natural world, even for just a short period of time each day, can also do wonders for our physical and mental health. However, as development and population increase, a loss of open land to offer food, shelter, and space for wildlife species means humans and animals must live in closer proximity with one another. Many animals have adapted to survive within range of developed areas, but we must also adapt to their presence. It’s important to remember to be patient and understanding of the needs and behavior of wildlife so we can peacefully coexist in the same areas.

Birdbath

Bird bath with sides for animals to perch on.
Kathleen Moore CC BY – 2.0

The most effective way to promote wildlife in your yard is to provide water, shelter for adults and young, and food all year round. Water can be provided with a small ornamental pond, rain gardens, or bird baths, but water must be changed or refreshed often to prevent mosquito reproduction if it is not flowing water. To provide food, select plants that offer a variety of blooms and fruit at different times of the year. To provide shelter, select a variety heights and growth patterns of plants. Using native plants can reduce the need for pesticide, high maintenance plants, and also reduce the risk of introducing invasive species or plants that may outcompete native species. You can search for native plants that fit your environment and interests using the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. Remember that even small creatures like insects, worms, and spiders all serve as a source of food for wildlife, so they should be left alone whenever possible.

Gardeners will tell you that providing the essential food water, shelter for wildlife will sometimes attracts species that are unwanted on occasion as well. General advice for managing unwanted wildlife interactions starts with considering if the damage the animal is causing is truly worth spending your time or money on. Most organisms we interact with are harmless to us and beneficial to the environment in some way. Next, identify and monitor the pest to gather evidence about the appropriate control strategy, if any. Third, devise a plan to prevent the wildlife from coming within close range of your residence. Generally, if the issue is addressed with the following strategies, lethal control and chemical control becomes unnecessary.

Squirrel prevention

Exclusion: sheet metal being used for squirrel prevention. Adjust the metal periodically to allow for proper tree growth. From Wildlife chapter of the Extension Gardener Handbook. Nicolas A. Tonelli, Flickr CC BY – 2.0

Habitat modification: make the area less appealing to certain wildlife by removing food or shelter. For example, secure pet food, or birdseed, remove brush or wood piles near buildings.

Exclusion: create physical barriers to wildlife with fences or netting. Seal cracks and crevices in the house with spray foam or steel wool and block entrances under decks with netting and fencing buried to the appropriate depths. You should also seal garbage cans and create barriers around valuable plants, and create barriers around planting areas with fencing or bird netting.

Repellents: use scare tactics to keep animals away, motion lights, flashing strobe lights, motion sensor for a sprinkler or garden hose may also work.

Trapping: capturing the animal in a live trap (check with NC Wildlife Resources Commission for guidance on this).

These strategies may not be effective long-term depending on the animal and when they fail, it may be time to implement a lethal tactic if there is ongoing damage and economic loss being caused by the animal. You can utilize the Extension Master Gardener℠ Handbook Wildlife Chapter to read more about preventative measures for wildlife control and lethal control options on your own property. You can also contact our office at 336-318-6000, or contact the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission for guidance (866-318-2401). Some animals will require a depredation permit from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and can only be taken in specific seasons.

Mole spear trap

Mole traps are the most effective way of dealing with mole issues. This is a spear-type trap.

If you spend any time outdoors you may encounter injured wildlife. Some will benefit from our help; others are better undisturbed. The following can care for themselves, or likely have a mother nearby waiting for you to leave the area: white-tailed deer fawns, fledgling birds (young, fully feathered birds), rabbits with a body longer than 4 inches, opossum with a body about 9 inches, and squirrels close to full sized. Animals that might needs help would be those brought in by a dog or cat, injured (bleeding or broken limbs), nearly featherless birds, animals that are cold to the touch or shivering, and very young animals with parents that are deceased. Again, typically the best thing to do is to leave the animal alone where you’ve found it. Keep in mind that injured or diseased animals may be more aggressive and you should be extremely cautious near them. In North Carolina, rabies occurs most often in raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks, these animals should never be handled. If you have specific questions on helping wildlife or to locate a rehabilitation, call the NC Wildlife Resources Commission helpline for guidance at (866-318-2401).

A few other publications and resources you may be interested in:

Butterflies in Your Backyard

Reptiles and Amphibians in Your Backyard

Landscaping for Wildlife with Native Plants

Cornell Lab of Ornithology