When we first moved to this property there was a nice canopy of trees over our home and sugar sand as far as you could see underneath. There was very little vegetation in the ground except for some lantana, periwinkles, a tiny tuft of lawn in the backyard and Florida fern around some trees. There were also a few birds, but not very many.
The neighbor across the street told me to stop raking the leaves, so I did. It's taken a while, but the land is totally unrecognizable from its original state, other than most of the trees, though a lot bigger, are still here. The place has turned into a wildlife haven for birds, all kinds of four-footed critters and butterflies.
How did we do this. First we stopped raking the leaves which are primarily different species of Oak and Sassafras with different kinds of fruit trees. This is a wonderful mulch that doesn't cost a thing. It is also a nice free source of humus and topsoil. We also encouraged the native plants whenever possible since they attract birds and butterflies. They also draw water closer to the surface where the property is dryer and open up the opportunity to plant other less sturdy plants that add to the wildlife's resources.
This guide lists some of the things that you need to help sustain the wildlife that considers your property to be their home. For more in depth information on this subject I would suggest that you go to National Wildlife Federation's website. This would especially be helpful in dealing with your unique situation.
The First Thing You Need to Consider for the Long Sustained Health of Your Wildlife is Various Food Sources:
Planting or encouraging native plants or hanging feeders in safe places are two easy ways to to enable your yard to feed all kinds of wildlife.
Native plants, shrubs and trees provide the foliage as well as nectar, pollen, berries, seeds and nuts that many species of wildlife require to not just survive but to also thrive.
Natives are already acclimated to survive in your local climate and soil with the amount of rainfall that your area may receive. They also are more available as healthy pollinators and seed dispersers than many exotics would be.
Because they're native to a specific area, native plants require less maintenance and supply what's needed by local wildlife.
When natural food sources may not be available, it's important to provide feeders for hummingbirds, other birds, squirrels and butterflies to supplement or supply the native food sources for resident and migrating wildlife.
Your Yard Needs at Least Three of the Following Types of Plants:
Plants that produce seeds, berries, flower nectar, leaves, twigs, nuts, fruits, tree sap or flower pollen.
If Food Sources Aren't Consistent or Are Only Seasonal Then you Need Supplemental Feeders:
Depending upon the animals present in your yard, you may need suet, a feeder for squirrels, hummingbirds, other birds or butterflies.
We have both native and non-native species of trees, flowers, bushes and ornamental grasses that produce pollen, nectar, seeds, fruit, nuts, leaves, twigs and berries, such as pepper trees which feed the Cardinal, Mocking Bird and the Blue Jay. We also have Sassafras berries, wild plums, choke cherries, Palm and Palmetto berries, acorns and Oak berries which feed the squirrels and several other species of birds. We also have
Spanish Needle, two species of Toad Wort and Texas Bluebell, along with Hibiscus, Lantana, Plumbago, Honeysuckle which often draw so many butterflies that we have to duck to avoid a mid air collision.
Of course, most people wouldn't want the kind of park setting that we've turned our property into. But for those who have a more suburban type of setting then what my foster mother did might be helpful. She had just a little back patio and yard in an assisted care home that was covered in trees. She was able to feed the squirrels and birds with feeders placed in safe places under and near the trees.
We live in a tropical zone, so what we do would only be applicable for those in a similar situation. But my foster mother lived in the San Francisco bay area and she was able to take care of her fat and sassy birds and squirrels during the winter months.
The Next Necessary Resource to Help Your Wildlife Thrive Year Round is Water in a Variety of Sources:
Water sources may include ponds, lakes, rivers, springs, oceans and wetlands, or bird baths, shallow areas for butterflies, installed ponds or rain gardens. Wildlife needs clean water not just for drinking and bathing but also for reproduction.
The easiest water source to put in your garden is a bird bath. Change the water 2-3 times per week during warm weather when mosquitoes are breeding, so that any eggs laid in the water don't have time to hatch. Also put a large rock or brick in the middle of the bath for the smaller birds to be able to get in and out safely. The larger birds like it also for sitting on.
If your area has cold winters, consider buying a small heater to keep the water from freezing. You may find this item at stores where you find wild bird supplies.
Your yard needs at least one of the following sources to provide clean water for wildlife to drink and bathe in: Lake, stream, seasonal pool, ocean, river, spring or water garden, a pond, birdbath, shallow areas for butterflies or a rain garden.
We have several sources of water, a birdbath, ponds for our geese and water dishes for the outdoor cats. We have several water sources because of what we have on our property. But we also have multiple water locations so that the various wildlife can coexist with the cats and livestock.
Food and Water are Essential for Your Wildlife. But it Won't be Very Effective if Your Yard Doesn't Offer Shelter From the Weather and Predators:
Wildlife needs places to hide to feel safe from people, predators, and bad weather. Native plants provide an excellent cover for wildlife. Shrubs, thickets and log or brush piles provide great hiding places.
Dead trees or a pile of wood are good choices since they can be home to many different species. Which would use the tree or pile for nesting, hiding and perching.
Ponds provide cover for fish and amphibians. A toad home can be built to provide shelter for amphibians on land.
What kind of cover is needed?
Wildlife needs at least two different shelter locations from the weather and predators:
They need a wooded area, a patch of thorny vines, ground cover, a rock pile or a rock wall, a cave, a roosting box, thick shrubbery or a thicket of shrubs or small trees, evergreens, a brush or log pile, a burrow or hole, a meadow, a prairie, a water garden or a pond.
We have several small tree thickets on our property as well as informal piles of wood in sheltered areas among the many trees which are in various sizes and heights. We also have large draping and twining plants and stands of palmettos which provide excellent cover right in the garden as well as being ornamental for the garden.
For the Full Cycle of Life Your Wildlife Also Needs Areas for Undisturbed Nesting and Courtship:
Wildlife needs places to reproduce, bear and raise their young, and see their young survive to adulthood, safe from predators, bad weather and human intervention.
Successfully drawing birds and other wildlife requires not just putting out food for a season. But it requires creating a place for the entire life-cycle of a species, from egg to adult, etc.
Many safe covers for wildlife can also serve as locations where wildlife can raise their young such as wildflower patches for butterflies and moths to lay their eggs and small animals to dig in around the roots. You can also build a pond for frogs and other amphibians and fish.
You can place birdhouses in safe and secluded areas in your garden if natural options aren't available to you. The birdhouse needs to be built for the specific species of birds that come into your area. For instance, some larger birds will poach on the nests of smaller birds. The size of the entry to the house and how the house is built will determine which birds will use the house, if any will. Some birds are more solitary, some more communal and some, like the Wren, are equal opportunists. If you put out a house that doesn't accommodate your local bird population, it won't be used.
How do you give wildlife a place to reproduce?
You need at least two places for wildlife to have active courtship behavior, to mate and then to bear and raise their young. Some excellent choices are: Mature trees, a meadow or prairie, a nesting box, wetland, cave, host plants for caterpillars and for butterflies, dead trees, dense shrubs, a thicket of trees, a water garden, a pond or a burrow for a furry critter or a tortoise.
I've learned over the years of putting out the 'welcome mat' for the local wildlife that it can't just be for a season. In order to actually attract birds to your yard consistently year after year it needs to be a year-round thing or they will just go somewhere else. Wildlife isn't into fast food or feast and famine cycles. If the supply is inconsistent their appearance in your yard will be inconsistent. Because their bottom line is optimal survival for the species.
Two other notes that will help wildlife survive in your yard are:
1-Use less lawn and replace with more trees, shrubs and flowers so that you have less lawn which requires more water and chemicals to maintain. The plant life is a more attractive shelter for wildlife.
2-Which brings us to the second very important point. Be very careful what kinds of treatments that you apply to your yard. Many of them will kill wildlife and won't actually help your garden that much. Wildlife will chew the edges of your landscaping and the leaves on the bushes. That's their dinner. Check with your local cooperative extension office for suggestions on natural treatments. But also note that some natural pesticides will also eliminate what you are trying to attract to your garden, especially the butterflies.