Some people are lucky enough to have a backyard visited by all kinds of wildlife. Others have about as much wildlife in their yards as there is excitement in a graveyard. Having migrant birds visit your property on an annual basis, in spite of construction and human encroachment, truly adds to the enjoyment of your yard. My favorite wildlife visitors in the backyard are ring necked pheasants and quail, but I have others that come along as well, which tend to be more of a problem, such as skunks and white-tailed deer. Aside from the chewing damage on landscape plants, the white-tailed deer are fun to watch and have around. I will not comment about the skunks.

Lance Ellis

Lance Ellis

Some of the local wildlife migrate through about the same time every year, and others are permanent residents in the neighborhood. The flock of quail migrate through my yard at about the same time every year and continue to do that notwithstanding human structures being built nearby. One thing I can do to help increase the likelihood of them visiting my yard more often or making a temporary home, is to create a desirable backyard habitat. To create a successful backyard habitat, you will want to provide for their needs, and these vary with each species you are trying to attract.

These needs are food, water, space, cover and a place for them to raise their young. Having a habitat garden helps to reduce habitat loss due to urban encroachment, connects your yard with the local ecosystem and helps bring your property to life. As you consider how to create backyard habitat, choose which animals you want to attract and/or you can mimic the local ecosystem to attract the resident animals around you. A few basic principles of doing this include using trees, shrubs and perennials in the landscape; include a high proportion of native plants from the region in your yard, limit the open space and provide cover for animals to hide from predators. Reduce or don’t use pesticides in the yard, as they will kill beneficial pollinators. Even though they kill unwanted bugs, the costs outweigh the benefits. There are quite a few naturally occurring pollinators in our area including butterflies, moths, native bees and some beetles.

These bugs will not automatically come to your yard just by planting a few flowers here and there; you need to provide nesting cavities for them, food sources for their larvae and a wide palette of flower varieties that will bloom in different parts of the season to continually have a food source. Good plants for beneficial insects are daisies, sunflowers, penstemons, milkweeds, goldenrod, rabbitbrush, columbines, viburnum, serviceberry and currants. Beneficial insects also enjoy having access to water sources, wind protection and sun basking locations. Concerning birds: provide areas of dense shelter, natural food sources, (choose plants that are naturally part of their diet or supplement with food sources as needed, with an example being bird seed), provide open water for them to drink and bathe all year round (which is difficult for many birds to find during winter) and create nesting sites. Birds also like places to dust themselves, as well as leaf litter to scratch around in for bugs. One precaution to take is, if you have cat, it may need to be controlled or birds may be hunted and driven away.

If you are trying to attract small mammals such as squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits, then provide a wide range of food including succulent leafy plants. These animals also like to have low, dense shelter such as low growing junipers or branch piles to hide and live in. Creating a backyard habitat is very rewarding and gives you years of enjoyment watching wildlife interact and live right outside your backdoor.

Lance Ellis is the University of Idaho Extension educator for Fremont County. He can be reached at 208-624-3102.