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Great Ways to Attract Wildlife

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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Attracting wildlife to your home is fun and easy and provides an opportunity to view wild birds and mammals close to your home. Anyone can make their environment more suitable for wildlife, whether you live in the country on acres of ground or in an apartment in the city. Providing a few basic necessities usually pays off quickly, as wildlife comes to take advantage of the new amenities of your home.

Birds

For most people, backyard feeding is done in an effort to attract birds. Birds are colorful and active and you can spend hours watching their feeding, mating and nesting behavior. The types of birds you can attract are often regional, although many birds migrate in the winter or spring months so it is not uncommon to get a few out-of-town guests. It is a good idea to start with a book about the birds that are common to your area or a phone call to the department of Fisheries and Wildlife in your state to find out which species are most common. Different types of foods often attract different birds, so you may need to vary your offerings to get the types of birds you wish to see.

Like most living things, birds are attracted to food, water and shelter. Providing one or more of these is a sure way to invite them to your house. Bird feed and feeders come in more varieties than you can imagine. They are often custom-made to accommodate the feeding habits of particular species. For beginning bird-watchers, a simple feeder can be made from an old coffee can. Make two small holes at the ends of one side of the coffee can and suspend the can from a cord or small chain. Cut an opening in the plastic lid, leaving the rim intact so it still fits snugly over the end. Make sure there are no sharp edges. Fill with your favorite seed and then sit back and watch the birds.

Once you begin to see the birds arrive, you will probably want to try larger feeders with more feeding room. A trip to the local feed store, wild bird market or home store can provide you with more ideas and options. If you live in an apartment, try a window feeder. These feeders attach to any window with clear suction cups bring the birds in at close range. They are easy to refill and clean.

Birds love water too and it is necessary for their good health. Besides drinking, birds bathe regularly to remove dirt and parasites from their feathers. Water can be offered in elaborate concrete fountains or simple saucers. Most birds are afraid of deep water, so it is best to offer water no deeper than a few inches. A gently sloped container helps them walk into the water rather than having to take a plunge. Offering a few rocks or stones helps them navigate large expanses of water by giving them places to stand while they drink and bathe. Change water daily to keep it clean. Water is very important in winter months, as it can be hard for birds to find once temperatures drop. Heating elements and heated birdbaths are options for these cold months. An inexpensive birdbath can be made using a medium to large plant pot and saucer. Plastic is lighter weight and won't crack, as does terra cotta. Invert the pot; glue the bottom of the saucer to the bottom of the pot. Let dry and fill with water.

You can provide shelter by giving birds nesting sites. Birdhouses, landscaping, and trees will all do nicely. Most birds like to maintain short distances between their food, water and shelter, so it is often best to keep these items in close proximity. To encourage nesting, offer nesting material. Lint from the clothes dryer, pet hair, small scraps of material, etc. are all appreciated to make the nest warm and snug.

Mammals

These furry friends appreciate a handout as well. Wildlife such as deer, raccoon, squirrels, and chipmunks will gladly take any food offerings you may give. Attracting these species is one of personal preference. These animals can be nuisances to some people, and more effort is put into deterring them than feeding them.

Raccoons, Squirrels and Ground Mammals

If you live in an area where wildlife is losing its habitat due to construction or other pressures, offering food and shelter is an option many people provide.

Unlike birds, these animals don't have fussy appetites. They will gladly eat corn, birdseed, pet food, bread, leftover fruit and vegetables, even meats, eggs and cheeses. Bringing these animals onto your property may have serious consequences so take time to decide whether your home is set to accommodate these guests. Raccoons can be destructive and messy, and squirrels can eat a lot of expensive bird food. Food left on the ground can also attract rats and mice. Your neighbors may not think marauding raccoons are so cute, so carefully consider this before inviting your houseguests. Remember, wildlife is wild and should not be tamed as pets.

Deer

Deer are a controversial subject in many places. Some appreciate them for their natural beauty and others find them destructive to landscape and gardens. Elevated feeding stations are often an option for both sides of this debate. A trough type feeder filled with corn and hay often attracts deer and discourages them from eating your more prized garden plants. Fencing, chemical repellants or noisemakers often keep them out of landscaped areas and confine their appetites to the feeding station. For many people, this works well. They get to enjoy the beauty of the deer and keep the vegetable garden intact.

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