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Brian Bennett

Backyard Habitats

Creating a place where wildlife wants to live is not as difficult as it might seem. It is simply a matter of planting material that is suitable for food and shelter. There are four things that will form the backbone of any good habitat: Flowers, fruits, evergreen and deciduous trees, and water.

Habitats for Birds

If you feed them, they will come! Basically, if you provide a place for birds to feed and the appropriate food, you will have birds. Some birds eat seeds, some eat fruit and many eat insects, particularly during the summer. Choose a sturdy, squirrel-proof seed feeder for those birds that will eat seeds and place it near the edge of an open area. Birds need to have trees of bushes near a feeding area so they can hide should a predator come along. The bushes should not be so close to the feeder that they can hid a predator such as a family cat, though. Fruit eaters can sometimes be attracted to fruit feeders containing apples or oranges, but they will also feed at fruit bearing plants in your yard, such as blackberries or hollies. To assure a good supply of insects for the insect eaters, avoid spraying your lawn and garden with chemical pesticides. If insect populations get out of hand, spray them with insecticidal soap, which is not toxic to birds. Almost every bird will feed on suet, a natural animal fat, which is a good source of calories during the cold of winter. Suet feeders can be purchased already constructed or you can make your own. Having a clean source of water is also important for birds as well a for other animals. Set a bird bath directly on the ground and keep it scrubbed clean or create a water garden with a shallow end (1"-3" deep) for bathing and drinking.


From April through October, hummingbirds zip through gardens in most of the US and Canada feeding on nectar from our flowers. Hummingbirds are very inquisitive creatures. The best way to enjoy them is to provide feeding areas for them that are close to your home, such as a hanging basket of fuchsias on the porch or a flowerbed under your kitchen window. Hummingbirds are particularly attracted to red or orange colored flowers, especially those that produce large quantities of nectar such as coral honeysuckle. Most trumpet-shaped flowers are good nectar producers. Since hummingbirds spend about 60% of their time perched on a tree branch resting, plant flowers near trees. If you are lucky, the hummingbirds may even nest in your trees. The female builds a nest about the size of a quarter which is made of lichen, spider webs, and fine plant fibers. In addition to needing spiders as a source for nesting material, hummingbirds also eat quite a few insects and feed them to their growing babies. Be careful not to spray pesticides in your garden. The birds need the bugs, and besides, the pesticides could kill the birds you are trying to attract.

Habitats for Butterflies

Encouraging butterflies to live in your garden is a good way to add living, flying color to your landscape. Most butterflies feed on nectar as adults so plant flowers that will provide lots of nectar for them. Flowers that have clusters of many small blooms such as pentas and salvias are good general choices. If you would like the butterflies to stay in your garden as long as possible and lay eggs, you will also need to provide plants for the caterpillars to eat. Caterpillars tend to be picky eaters; some will only eat one species of plant. Get a good field guide to butterflies and find the types of butterflies that occur in your area. The larval host plants that the caterpillars eat are listed with each butterfly. A few examples are given below. Butterflies drink water from wet spots in the soil, so keep a shady corner of your garden quite damp. Provide shelter for nightly roosting by planting vines on a fence or creating a screen of shrubs and trees in the back of your garden. All butterflies need a sunny spot which is sheltered from the wind where they can bask in the morning to raise their body temperature. Butterflies will be most active in a large open area which can be as simple as a piece of yard kept mowed. Since butterflies are insects, pesticides will kill them, so be careful what you spray in the garden.

Butterflies and their larval host plant(s)

  • Black Swallowtail – parsley, carrot, dill, Queen Anne's lace
  • Variegated Fritillary – violets and passionflowers
  • Painted Lady – thistles, mallows, legumes
  • American Painted Lady – everlastings
  • Monarch – milkweeds
  • Clouded Sulfur – clover and alfalfa

(Note: There is a lot more information on "Habitats for Butterflies" on the page entitled "Butterfly Gardening."

Other Resources

Bringing wildlife into your garden isn't hard, it's just common sense and understanding the creatures you are trying to attract. For more information contact:

National Audubon Society
700 Broadway
New York, NY 10003
To join call (800) 274-4201

For information about Audubon backyard bird feeders & accessories call Duncraft at (800) 593-5656. For information about Audubon birding binoculars call Bushnell at (800) 423-3537.

Noah's Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards by Sara Stein, Houghton Mifflin Company, MA, 1993.

Redesigning the American Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony by F.H. Balmori, D. Balmori & G.T. Geballe, Yale University Press, CT, 1993.

Woodworking for Wildlife: Homes for Birds and Mammals by Carrol L. Henderson, Dept. of Natural Resources Nongame Wildlife Supervisor, 1992. To obtain a copy, contact Minnesota's Bookstore, 117 University Ave., St. Paul, MI 55155, (800) 657-3757.



Garden Tours

Barb's Top 10 Disney Garden Attractions

Brian's Top 10 Disney Garden Attractions

Tips: Right Plant in the Right Place

Tips: Interior Plants

Backyard Habitats

Butterfly Gardening

Bonsai and Penjing

Water Gardening

Flower Gardening

Cutting Gardens

Disney StyleTopiary

Disney Style Horticulture at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Disney Style Hanging Baskets

Disney Style Floating Gardens


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