Whether you have a 20-acre farm, a small suburban backyard, or a city balcony, you can help native wildlife in your community by giving them back some of the habitat they’ve lost.
Around the world, we’re facing a species extinction crisis, from bees and butterflies to elephants and whales, all the way up the food chain to apex predators, like tigers and sharks. Habitat loss due to human activity is one of the main causes of the die-off, along with pesticides, eating meat, and climate change-related factors. Giving even a little bit of natural habitat back to native species can help them.
Here are some tips for creating a natural habitat around your home to help native wildlife.
Tip 1: Learn about what plants, animals, and insects are indigenous to your local area.
Non-native species have been introduced to geographical areas for as long as human beings have been moving around. And just as the pace of communication, technology, and travel have escalated since the Industrial Revolution, so has the introduction of non-native species.
Learning about what’s native to your area can be eye opening and fun. And there are a variety of resources to help you learn. Here are a few:
Native Plant Resources:
Audubon Society Native Plants Database
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
USDA Plants Database
Native Plant Library
This might seem obvious, but in case you didn’t think about it – Googling “native plants” + your geographical area is one of the easiest ways to get information for your local area.
Also, you can contact your local plant nursery.
Native Insect Resources
U.S. Forest Service
Google “native insects” + your geographical area.
Native Reptile Resources
Google “native reptiles” + your geographical area
Native Wildlife Resources
Google “native wildlife,” “native birds,” “native animals,” etc. + your geographical area.
Tip 2: Plant native plants.
Whether in your yard or in pots on your windowsill, planting native plants is a vital way to help local birds, insects, and other wildlife.
Native plants are those that grow naturally in distinct ecosystems and geographical areas without being there as a result of human introduction. These types of plants have evolved over thousands of years to form symbiotic relationships with indigenous wildlife.
The benefits that native plants bring to an area plentiful. To begin, they’re low maintenance. They’ve already adapted to the temperature, rainfall, and other climate conditions in the local area, so they can outlast non-native species, while requiring a minimal amount of care. Native plants also require less water and are less costly to maintain than non-native plants.
Another benefit of native plants is they don’t require artificial pesticides and fertilizers to grow. They’ve already adapted to local insects, animals, and diseases. In the U.S., the average suburban lawn uses more pesticides per square foot than the average farm. Planting native plants means you don’t have to expose your family, pets, and neighbors to toxins from pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and artificial fertilizers.
Native plants also support local biodiversity. Indigenous insects, birds, reptiles, and other wildlife have co-evolved with native plants, and thus, they rely on them to survive and thrive, whether it’s for food or shelter.
Tip 3: Provide a source of water.
Birds are attracted to the sound of running water, and they need it to survive just as we do. Insects also need access to water. Along with your native plants, it’s a good idea to provide a basin of water in your yard or on your balcony. If you don’t have a lot of space, there are battery-operated fountains that can bring a soothing ambiance to your balcony garden or other small spaces.
Tip 4: Provide shelter.
Birdhouses, bug hotels, cubbies, and platforms in ponds can provide respite to wildlife. You can see some ideas for bug hotels in my post on helping bees, butterflies, and other insects. And Etsy and Amazon have a number of great ideas for birdhouses.
Tip 5: See how other people are doing it.
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has a program that teaches people how to support native habitats in their communities, and they even have a certification program.
Here’s a video from NWF about their Garden for Wildlife program:
The goal of your natural habitat project is to provide food, water, cover, and a place for native wildlife to raise their young. While you may not be ready to raise a pack of city rats on your balcony, you can still provide a safe landing spot for birds and insects.
If you’re an urban dweller or you don’t have a lot of space, check out my posts on roof gardens and vertical gardens. You’ll see that you don’t need a lot of space to create a little wildlife sanctuary.
Here’s a video of a family that got certified with the NWF’s habitat program:
A world where adults and kids help wildlife to thrive – that’s where I want to live!