By Kayla Bott
Winter can be a particularly grueling season for wildlife. Fortunately, there are many ways to help animals thrive. Enhancing your yard as a supplemental wildlife habitat helps to counter the effects of deforestation and provide resources for animals. You can even have your property recognized by the National Wildlife Foundation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.
“The greatest thing anyone can do for wildlife is to provide the best habitat possible year round,” says Jodie B. Owen, communications specialist at the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC). “Providing a good habitat will provide wildlife with their necessary requirements throughout the year.” The ideal habitat requirements for wildlife are the same as our own—the basic elements of food, water and shelter.
“My efforts to make my yard more wildlife-friendly began several years ago when I started removing nonnative invasive plants such as English ivy and Chinese privet,” says Jamie Harrelson, local biologist and wildlife photographer. “In early 2016, I assisted with outreach for Audubon North Carolina’s Bird-Friendly Native Plants program and since then I have planted approximately 65 native species.”
Black-eyed Susan, swamp milkweed, goldenrod, Joe Pye weed, cutleaf coneflower and blazing star are among the plants featured in her garden. Native plants like these are beneficial to animals because of their ability to bear fruits and provide foliage, nectar and ground cover.
Nectar is an important food source. Growing plants that bloom asynchronously can provide nectar for pollinators throughout the year. In spring and summer, butterflies and hummingbirds will flock to nectar feeders.
Those who don’t live too close to bears can offer bird seed year round. “While residential birds are equipped to withstand most winter weather, survival can be made easier by providing food, a heated open source of water and protection from the elements with natural plant cover or a roosting box,” says Heidi Muma, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited stores in Asheville and Hendersonville. High-fat foods like sunflower seeds and suet provide enough calories for birds to build up fat stores and survive extreme conditions.
Water sources are often scarce during winter months, especially during freezing temperatures. Even a simple birdbath (kept clean and thawed) can be very helpful to wildlife. With available space and resources, you can even create a rain garden, a pond or a backyard marsh.
“Leave ‘fallow’ or natural areas that are not mowed, sprayed, fertilized, or otherwise disturbed,” says Owen. “Rock or brush piles make perfect sheltering areas for amphibians and reptiles.” Leave wood brush to decay naturally, use branches as garden barriers or pile it up to provide shelters for small animals. Instructions for making toad abodes, bird houses, bee hive boxes and other shelters can be found on the NCWRC website.
“In addition to native plants, my yard contains a brush pile, nest boxes, bird feeders and a bustling bird bath,” says Harrelson. “There’s very little maintained lawn and no chemical use beyond selective application of herbicide to non-native invasive plants. The biological diversity supported by this small patch is incredible. During the warm months, it has been so enjoyable to observe the activity of a multitude of pollinators and birds and to discover butterfly and moth caterpillars munching on leaves. It makes every bit of effort worthwhile, knowing that I’m helping to sustain native wildlife.”
For more information on how to certify your yard as a wildlife habitat visit nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife/Certify. Visit the NCWRC website for more information on improving your yard at ncwildlife.org/Conserving/ Land-Management/Residential-Backyard.