Create a Calming Natural Retreat in Your Own Backyard
In this stressful world, research shows that connecting with nature can do wonders for our moods. But you don’t have to pack up and head for the countryside to enjoy a natural oasis—you can create the perfect wildlife retreat right outside your door.
The trick is to create a welcoming habitat for a variety of animals, and it needs just four things: food, water, shelter and safety.
Having a variety of native plants turns your yard into a wonderful buffet for the birds you hope to see and the insects they like to eat. Non-native plants may have long-lasting blooms and be easy to care for, but if they don’t come from the same environment as the birds and bugs in your midst, they are probably just a nice decoration.
When designing your backyard oasis, research plants that are native to your area. Plant a variety of them at varying heights, and keep in mind what creatures will enjoy their leaves, seeds and berries throughout the year.
Having clean water for the animals that come and go is essential, especially in times of drought. The simplest setup would be a large dish of water that you set out each day and bring in to clean at night. That’s plenty for the birds to sip from and splash around in.
If you have a large birdbath in your yard, make sure to rinse it out regularly with a hose and refill it with more cool, clear water. Or add a solar-powered bubbler to keep the water from stagnating and attracting mosquitoes. (Bonus: The bubbling sound may also attract more birds, and it has a real calming effect on us humans.)
Having a secure place to hide is essential for animals to evade predators and successfully reproduce. After they’ve enjoyed the food and water in your little oasis, they may need to take cover for courting, mating and raising their young.
This can be as simple as a mature tree with plenty of branches for nest-building, or dense shrubs where birds can’t be easily seen. Or, you might want to provide a house especially for bats or bluebirds to raise their young.
Now that wildlife can eat, drink and be merry in the habitat you’ve created, you should minimize their odds of an injury or untimely death. Here are some of the most common pitfalls:
When a bird flies directly into a window, it may be because the reflection of clouds and sunshine makes it look like open skies. Or they might see their own reflection and mistake it for a competitor to fight with.
Many of these incidents can be prevented by moving feeders and baths away from large windows. You can also cover the windows with screens, one-way film or decorative decals so they are visible as solid objects.
Pest Control Injuries
In our efforts to get rid of a nuisance animal, we sometimes hurt the animals we enjoy having around. Glue traps might keep a mouse from getting inside, but they may also attract a bird that wants to eat the trapped mouse—and now they’re both stuck.
Using rodenticide might do the trick, but when a poisoned mouse is eaten by a bird, they both suffer the devastating effects.
Think about non-lethal ways to prevent these animals from becoming pests. Find possible points of entry into your home and seal them up. Use a trap that attracts and contains a rodent until it can be released away from your home.
Bird Feeder Problems
A bird feeder seems like a pretty harmless way to attract birds to your yard, but it can cause problems without the proper maintenance. If it’s not kept clean, it might be serving moldy or bacteria-laden seed, making birds very sick.
And if those birds are visiting multiple feeders in your neighborhood, that sickness is easily spread to other birds.
Empty and wash your feeders regularly to prevent sickness. Disinfect them in the dishwasher, or by soaking them in a 20 percent solution of white vinegar and hot water. Use a scrub brush if needed, and be sure to let them dry thoroughly before refilling.
You don’t need a sprawling estate to create a wildlife-friendly habitat. Even if all you have is a balcony, you can set up a bird feeder and put some water out every day. Identify the birds in your area and set up a welcoming home for them to safely raise their young.
When you are confident that you’ve provided all four basics of a great backyard habitat, you can reward your efforts with a certification by the National Wildlife Federation. They’ll send you a sign you can proudly display, and it might even inspire your neighbors to make their own backyards more hospitable.