With spring upon us, now’s the perfect time to breathe new life into your backyard. Whether you’re attacking the ever-emerging weeds, trimming back your shrubs, manicuring that lawn, or going for a top-to-toe landscaping makeover, there’s lots to be done.
And, this year, why not spare a thought for the wild neighbors who might stop by and enjoy the fruits of your labor, as well as the friends and family who will kick back and relax there this summer?
There are lots of reasons why having a wildlife-friendly yard is a good idea.
It makes the whole space more vibrant, more engaging, more beautiful – and at the same time helps preserve plant and animal species, increase natural diversity, control insect populations, and educate others on the wonders of the natural world!
Here are some of our top tips for creating an outdoor space that’s as much fun for humans as it is for wild animals:
It’s like eating locally-sourced food – not only does it make you feel good, keeping things native is good for our ecosystem and for conservation efforts.
Native plants such as lupines, vine maple, cascade Oregon grape and butterfly bushes are all great options for attracting a variety of wild species, from butterflies and bees to birds and small mammals.
The Washington Native Plant Society has a handy list of native plants by county, which you can browse and download here.
Natural is best.
Where possible, consider all the natural sources of food, water and shelter your yard has to offer, and maximize these.
Whether you have bushes bursting with tasty berries, tree trunks with snags that make great nesting spots, or a place where water naturally collects – these are all fantastic, low-maintenance, natural options for your wild visitors.
Take hummingbirds as an example. While we’re not suggesting the plastic feeders you can buy from your local garden store are a bad idea, you might consider planting a species of red flowering currant instead. Hummingbirds love plants with tubular flowers – and planting like this will bring a wonderful burst of natural color to your yard!
(One word of advice with hummingbirds – if you do choose a shop-bought feeder, don’t hang lots of them close together. Hummingbirds are very territorial, and we’ve seen patients brought into PAWS Wildlife Center who’ve sustained injuries from these feisty encounters! Also, avoid using red dye to attract them as this is toxic.)
Nutrient-rich fallen tree trunks, known as “nurse logs”, are also a hive of activity. They provide food and hydration for a variety of insects and plants, not to mention a luxury home for a variety of insects, beetles and fungi.
Fancy a weekend off from mowing your lawn?
Your wild neighbors say no problem! Species like voles and rabbits (pictured, right top) actually prefer it this way as it gives them more ground cover while they’re moving around, making them less visible to predators.
Likewise with fallen leaves – don’t feel you have to rush out with the rake every day (or, if you do, leave some piled up in a discreet corner).
Frogs, salamanders and other small creatures use them in a variety of ways, from nest materials to that perfect hiding spot.
Look out for creative nesters!
With nest-building already underway for many species here in the Pacific Northwest, be careful to check for nests in unusual places.
Here at PAWS, we’ve found them in among hose pipes, electrical boxes (pictured, right center) and even light fixtures!
Considering providing a nesting box? Click here for some tips on nesting box success from the National Wildlife Federation.
Equipment that's been out of action over the winter can also bring surprises when uncovered for the warmer weather.
Raccoons, for example, love setting up home in boats – they’ve even been known to take a shine to hot tubs as nesting spots of choice!
If you come across an animal’s home that’s in a seemingly hazardous location, please don’t disturb it before seeking advice.
You can call us here at PAWS on 425.412.4040 or—if you’re outside Washington State—contact the National Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Association or the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council for guidance on rehabilitation centers in your area that can help.
I live in an apartment and my “yard” is a balcony. What can I do?
You don’t have to live on a multi-acre property in the middle of nowhere to encourage and enjoy wildlife.
In an apartment setting, native flowers and plants in containers and small water features (see an innovative wall-mounted design, pictured right) are both great ideas.
Feeders that are regularly emptied/not overfilled will also attract local birds – without encouraging less desirable visitors such as rats looking for an easy feed!
Want to learn more about peaceful coexistence with our wild neighbors? Join our in-house expert, Wildlife Admissions Specialist Cindy Kirkendall, at Shoreline Library on Wednesday, April 22 for Wildlife-friendly Homes & Yards: Living Harmoniously with Wildlife.
In short, making a few wildlife-friendly choices along the way—whatever space you have to work with—will not only result in a beautiful outdoor area you can enjoy with family and friends. More than likely, it will come alive with wild visitors too!
More questions about wildlife-friendly living? Email us.
Found an injured or sick wild animal in WA? Call us on 425.412.4040 as soon as possible, or use our online resources to find out how PAWS can help.
Interested in a career in wildlife rehabilitation? Check out internship/externship opportunities at PAWS.