A yard that lacks food for wildlife — lacks wildlife. Part of their day — every day — is focused on finding food. Food sources are vital.
In spring and summer, the food requirements of animals are high — not only do they have themselves to feed but their offspring, too. In winter, it’s worse. Challenged with fewer daytime hours, they must still find enough energy-providing morsels to carry them through frigid nights that relentlessly attack their efforts to stay warm. For some wildlife, the search for food may consume their entire day, and it’s a matter of life or death.
Make it your goal that nearly every plant in your yard will be a food source for wildlife. Choose plants that will flower at differing times of the season, so your yard always has something available. Some shrubs and trees will hold their fruit through winter, providing food after other sources have been consumed.
Through spring, summer, and fall, native nectar plants provide food for butterflies, moths and other beneficial insects. They also produce seeds for birds and other wildlife. Native nectar plants
Host plants give butterflies, moths, and other insects a place to lay their eggs. The hatched caterpillars then feed on the plants until they reach the adult stage.
Trees and shrubs produce flowers, berries, and nuts for birds and mammals.
Consider sharing some of your vegetable garden with wildlife. Fence part of it for yourself, if you wish, but plant some extra that you leave accessible to wildlife.
Insects are vital to wildlife. The good news is that attracting them to your yard is easy: Have lots of native plants available and don’t use insecticides. (Read plant tags carefully; there are now hybridized plants on the market that are genetically modified to contain insecticides.)
Insects are food for birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. Even insects eat other insects. For some animals, it’s their primary source of food — from their perspective, an insect-free yard is a barren wasteland. But, give them bugs to eat, and they’ll not only hang around but help scrub your plants free of many pest insects.
Bird feeders aren’t strictly necessary. But if you like watching birds, you’ll add a lot to your enjoyment by drawing them out of hiding. Types of feeders
Hummingbirds and orioles readily come to nectar and fruit feeders, which are available at seed and hardware stores, or online. Nectar feeders require maintenance: Clean them anytime you see mold forming and keep the nectar fresh. Hummingbird nectar recipe
Suet is animal fat, and it’s packed full of energy-producing calories. In winter it helps birds carry on through punishing temperatures. In spring and summer, it gives them energy for building nests, mating and caring for their young.
Be aware that there are opponents to providing suet in warm weather. Among their worries about softened suet: It can mat feathers, reducing their insulating and waterproofing properties; may cause disease and maintenance problems when residue falls to the ground; and, isn’t necessary when other nutrient-rich sources are available.
Whether you decide to use it all year long or not, it will be popular. Suet laced with nuts, grains, and fruits is favored by woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and any other animal that can get to it. Be sure to place it in a wire cage.
*Top photo: Kristine Paulus / Flickr; cc by 2.0