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As natural habitats are being cleared away in the name of development, native wildlife also grows scarcer. A growing trend, encouraged by the National Wildlife Federation is for homeowners to plan home landscapes that attract and provide for all types of critters. An added benefit is that gardening for wildlife makes yards extremely low-maintenance -- shrub beds reduce the amount of lawn to mow, and organic practices eliminate the spraying of chemicals.
Basically, all kinds of wildlife have four basic needs to survive: food, water, shelter and a safe place to raise young. How you meet each of these needs determines which species you will attract. For example, to attract birds, you may be able to provide shelter as easily as providing a few nesting boxes. To attract small mammals like chipmunks, however, you might have to add a brushpile. The greater the variety of these four elements in your yard, the more diverse your wildlife visitors will be.
Water. The key here is to maintain a clean, dependable water source through all four seasons -- even in the dead of winter when you don’t feel like trekking out to check on it. Unclean water or a source that’s allowed to dry up too often will not be visited as regularly by wildlife. Any type of birdbath or garden pond will do, as long as there are shallow spots (place flat rocks inside, if necessary) that give birds and small mammals a safe foothold. It’s also important to protect your visitors from predators, so place your water source at least 15 feet from shrubbery that could harbor neighborhood cats.
Shelter. Wildlife rely on shelter for protection from the weather and predators, as well as for sleeping areas and safe travel lanes. Low shrubbery, especially berry bushes that also provide a food source, make an effective shelter. If it is dense enough, shrubbery can provide a home to ground-nesting birds such as doves and thrushes as well as small mammals like rabbits. You can also construct a brush pile from dead branches. Stone piles will provide a cool home for garden snakes, toads and lizards; all of which help to control insect populations. Also, consider leaving one or two dead trees standing, to attract cavity-nesters such as woodpeckers.
Places to raise young. For the most part these requirements can be satisfied by meeting basic shelter needs. The exception is birds, which benefit from nesting and roosting boxes. These can be purchased or made at home. Each species has specific requirements for entry-hole size, so contact your county extension office or your state's Wildlife Federation for instructions or plans for many types of nesting boxes.
Food. Rather than relying on feeders exclusively, it’s best to let Mother Nature provide a constant source of food by planting shrubs, vines and trees that produce edible nuts, seeds or berries. Holly, beauty berry (Callicarpa americana) and blackberry together provide nearly four seasons of berries. Oak trees provide acorns, dogwoods and sumac provide red berries through the fall and winter and serviceberry (Amelanchier species) bears edible berries in late spring or early summer.
Birdfeeders are often used to supplement the winter diet of birds. For general feeding, most species will eat black sunflower seed. Ground feeders like doves are partial to a scattering of cracked corn. Suet attracts insectivorous birds such as woodpeckers.