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Attracting Wildlife to Your Back
A Guide to Increasing Wildlife Diversity
and Aesthetic Value Around Your Home
The Needs of Wildlife:
Attracting wildlife to your back yard requires that
you think beyond traditional landscaping techniques which normally
do not meet the needs of wildlife. Wildlife have four basic
requirements for survival: food, water, shelter and space. If
you can develop a landscape plan which provides these elements, you
stand a good chance of success.
The types of wildlife you plan to attract will
determine what types of food you should provide. Food preferences
may fluctuate and amounts required change as the seasons change. In
addition, young wildlife require different foods than adults.
You can provide basic food requirements naturally
through landscaping with plants that produce berries, nuts and
seeds; artificially by supplementing food in a variety of feeders;
or by using a combination of both methods.
By providing a diversity of food types, wildlife
can utilize your back yard in all seasons. When selecting plants to
do your landscaping, choose an assortment with fruits and nuts which
mature at different times. Following this line of thinking will
allow you to provide a food source during summer, fall and winter.
Adding a variety of native grasses and forbs such
as maximillian sunflower or bluestem, that produce seeds utilized by
songbirds, will add to your menu. Finally, you can provide alternate
food sources through feeding stations, designated food plots and
Most bird migrations in spring key on the amount of
available daylight (photo period) and weather patterns, specifically
the average rise in temperature. Coinciding with increases in
temperature during initiation of spring is the beginning of the
insect hatch. Songbirds, such as the bluebird, purple martin and
swallow, feed primarily on insects and therefore follow warmer
weather as it moves north triggering insect life.
Other birds like the meadowlark migrate north based
solely upon the photo period and weather. They feed on waste grain
and old grass seed until plentiful insects are available.
Finally, songbirds like the sparrows need not worry
much about insects at all since they rely on grasses and forb seeds
Foods which are available June through August are
considered summer foods. Fruit bearing native
shrubs and trees make up a substantial amount of what you can plant
to benefit wildlife during these months.
These species include things like chokecherry,
nanking cherry, American plum, golden currant, sand cherry,
juneberry and freedom honeysuckle.
Vines such as riverbank grape also produce an
excellent berry for wildlife and can create nesting cover for birds
and a visual barrier between properties.
Fruit-bearing plants attract birds and other
wildlife including waxwings, orioles, brown thrashers, gray
catbirds, rufous-sided towhees, American robins, deer, grouse and
pheasants. Not only do these small to medium-sized species provide
food for both you and wildlife, they are dense and excellent nesting
cover for birds if not trimmed.
Also included in the list of beneficial food
sources for wildlife are those plants which can be introduced into
your backyard wetland. Aquatic organisms and other wildlife species
are attracted to wet areas and feed upon available vegetation.
Smartweed, bulrush, pondweed, duckweed, and cattail
are important sources of summer food for wildlife and should not be
Seeds and fruits which ripen in the fall are of
particular importance to migrating birds. They allow birds to build
up fat reserves to make it through the long journey south. It also
is important to resident wildlife species who normally require large
fat deposits to burn throughout our long winters.
Fall foods include the berry producing plants
referenced above, grains like black oil sunflower, corn and seeds
from native plants like maximillian sunflower and goldenrod.
Searching for food in the winter often burns most
of the fat reserves that wildlife have put on during the fall.
Therefore, it is very important wildlife are able to find food
during a certain percentage of their travels.
Many of the best winter wildlife foods are characterized
by two qualities: persistence on the branch or vine and low appeal
during the fall. Persistent berries are those which remain on the
plant long into the winter and include species like hawthorne,
hackberry, Russian olive, Siberian crab, mountain ash, American
cranberry, sumac, snowberry and bittersweet.
Many of these same berries are initially
unpalatable for wildlife and require times of freezing and thawing
before they are desirable.
Berries which persist late into the winter are
extremely important because they are available at a time when other
natural food supplies are limited or covered by snow. Songbirds and
game birds benefit substantially from food like this that has been
"preserved" for rough times.
Plants that produce acorns and nuts also fall into
this category and include species like bur Oak, black walnut and
These species are of particular importance to
white-tailed deer, squirrels, wood ducks, and wild turkeys. They are
also significant additions to your back yard as long term
investments because they provide added beauty and shade. Wildlife
species can also feed upon fallen fruit after snow melts in the
Refer to Appendix A which
discusses heights, wildlife values and other aspects of trees,
shrubs and vines in more detail.
Finally, there are alternate sources of food for
wintering wildlife. Alternate food sources consist primarily of
grains such as black oil sunflower, corn, suet, and fruit fed
through use of wildlife feeders (Refer to Constructing Nest
Boxes, Feeders and Photo Blind for North Dakota Wildlife, a
publication available from our Department which provides plans for
various wildlife feeders).
Feeders should not be provided as the only source
of food but rather as an alternate source when mother nature's is in
short supply and as a method to lure wildlife close to our back
yards for viewing purposes. Be aware that enticing wildlife species
such as deer close to your home can result in damage to other plants
and materials you value.
Thoroughly think through your plan before beginning
your feeding program. You may want to limit feeding to songbirds
only (Refer to Backyard Bird Feeding, a guide available upon
request from the Game and Fish Department).
Planting large tracts of grains and other valuable
forbs and grasses, with the intention of leaving some for wildlife,
is fairly maintenance free and better for wildlife than a feeding
station. Keeping larger mammals and game birds away from
disturbances associated with humans will help reduce stresses
already brought on during the winter and help keep wildlife wild, as
the term implies.
Even though food plots are normally thought of as
areas encompassing a number of acres, smaller areas of a few hundred
square feet can be beneficial for songbirds and other small
The value of smaller food plots are particularly
important when discussing the needs of bees, moths, butterflies and
Almost any yard has the space to plant an
arrangement of flowers that will attract butterflies. Not only will
you be happy with the opportunity to view butterfly species that
used this area but also by the aesthetic value added by such a
Seeing butterflies may not be difficult. In fact, most
of us have seen these winged creatures fluttering across our yard at
one time or another. The real challenge is knowing enough about them
to attract a variety of species over the entire season.
Butterflies require two types of food--food for
caterpillars and nectar for adults. Providing food sources
specifically for caterpillars can be accomplished with many
different types of plants. Some of the best trees include willows,
birch, oak, hackberry and nanking cherry. Favorite flowers include
members of the family Asteraceae like black-eyed susans,
purple cone flowers, clovers, marigolds and zinnias. Other plants
such as certain grasses, legumes, herbs, and sedges also provide
Whether or not you have plants in your own yard
that caterpillars need should not effect your ability to attract
butterflies. Most caterpillars will find adequate sources of food
somewhere in your area and be attracted to your yard once they
You can provide nectar sources by providing a variety of
flowers. Generally, white and purple colors seem to be favorites for
butterflies and tend not to attract as many bees as do yellow
Flowers of the family Asteraceae are favored
by butterflies in search of nectar. This family of flowers is
represented by flower heads which are composed of dense clusters of
small flowers surrounded by a ring of small leaves. They provide
excellent sources of nectar because butterflies can access numerous
flowers without flying from plant to plant.
Plant a variety of species of flowers to get the
largest variety of butterflies. A butterfly uses plants which are in
bloom. Choosing species of plants which bloom at different times
during the growing season will provide nectar sites for butterflies
maturing at varying intervals throughout the season.
In the beginning of the summer, dogbane, wild
bergamot, bull thistle and milkweed are native plants that will
attract many early butterflies such as the hobomok skipper,
silver-spotted skipper, and tiger swallowtail. Later in the summer,
these plants and others will attract hairstreaks, white and red
admirals and fritallaries.
The popular monarch butterfly can also be attracted
to your yard. This species' caterpillar relies entirely on the
milkweed plant for food. By providing milkweed plants, you can be
almost certain to find caterpillars feeding on the leaves of the
Fall maturing wildflowers like the purple coneflower and
some of the asters become important during this time period for
butterflies like the prairie skippers and painted ladies.
All of the plants mentioned above are native plants
and should be used to attract butterflies. One cannot overlook,
however, the importance of some of the commercial species of flowers
like the marigolds, zinnias, dames rocket and liatris. These flowers
mimic the looks of the wild Asteraceae family species and
therefore are excellent attractors of butterflies. High nectar
content of these species also makes them favorite of many
Placement of a butterfly garden can be important to
afford maximum butterfly use. Butterflies enjoy calm and sunny areas
to feed. Putting in a garden plot on the south side of your house
will offer maximum sunlight and some protection from prevailing
winds. Other locations on larger tracts of land may include a
clearing within a dense area of woods.
Also try an unpeeled banana to attract butterflies.
Simply make slits in a fresh fruit and place it in a closed
container until the banana becomes soft and juicy. Place the banana
on a tray near a window and see what happens. Refer to Appendix
B for additional information on butterflies.
Attracting moths is a difficult task since most moths are
active at night. Larval forms may be lured into your area by certain
plants but the fact they are limited in numbers makes it just a
chance you will have the opportunity to view one.
If you want to view moths, a black light source at
night is the best way. A black light is the type of light used in
the "bug-zapper" once sold in large numbers to "control" insects.
What actually happens is that insects are attracted to your yard
from great distances and then killed by the electric cage around the
black light. This type of product actually is detrimental to moths
and other beneficial insect populations.
The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only species
of hummingbird found in North Dakota. Historic information indicates
it nests only in the northeastern and eastern part of the
birds can be viewed in other parts of the state for short periods of
time during the spring and fall migrations.
To attract hummingbirds to your yard, plant large
flowers with high nectar levels or provide a nectar feeder. Nectar
is the sole source of food for these birds and they require frequent
feeding because of their high metabolism.
Nector feeders can be purchased locally and filled
with a sugar and water solution of 1-part sugar to 4-parts water.