Coexisting with garden wildlife.
It is easy to miss some of the wildlife that lives right in our neighborhoods. We may be reminded by the mess of trash in the morning that is left after a raccoon raided the can the night before. Some of us provide food for birds, or even a birdbath, but few of us take time to think about what native animals need to survive. Human development or urbanization is necessary, but comes with unintentional collateral damage to animals through loss of habitat and food sources. There are steps individuals living in developed areas can take to help ease the negative effects of human development on wildlife.
Animals have the same basic needs that humans do. Just as we do, animals need food, water, and shelter to survive. To provide a food source for wildlife you can plant a diversity of native plants that will supply a variety of fruit, nuts, seeds, and flowers throughout the year. Some good native plants to consider planting to provide a food source include: trumpet honeysuckle vine, American beauty berry shrub, dahoon holly tree, and the sabal palm. These are just a few examples, the key is variety. For more information please visit Native Plants That Benefit Wildlife in the Florida Panhandle: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw384
When supplementing naturally available food for birds, select birdseed mixes that have what your birds actually want to eat. Many cheap seeds are full of unwanted components including red proso millet and milo. Birds will empty feeders to get past unwanted seed to get at things like sunflowers that they desire. When selecting a birdfeeder you need to think about what types of birds you want to feed. Tube style feeders supply seed fed by gravity, due to their short perches tube feeders tend to cater to small birds including finches and wrens. Hopper feeders work on the same principal and also supply seed, but can cater to larger birds including blue jays, cardinals, and woodpeckers in addition to smaller wrens and finches. Platform feeders can easily be constructed, they are basically just a flat raised surface on which seeds or other foods are spread. Caution should be used with platform feeders due to an increased chance of disease transmission between birds from droppings mixing with seed. Another popular choice are suet feeders which provide a varied diet in the form of a suet cake placed within a cage. These type feeders attract woodpeckers, bluebirds, cardinals, wrens, blue jays, and others depending on the seed contained in the cake. It also should be mentioned that nectar feeders are available primarily for feeding hummingbirds. These feeders come in infinite shapes, as an attractant they are usually red in color to mimic natural flowers. Nectar feeders are filled with sugar water and require frequent cleaning due to fermentation. The sugar water should be changed out every 3-5 days and the feeder should be cleaned with just hot water. All birdseed feeders should be cleaned every 2 weeks with a 10% bleach and water solution to remove old seed, mold and excrement. For additional information please see Attracting Backyard Birds: Bird Feeder Selection: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw192
Providing a source of water is important for all wildlife. A birdbath can serves as a source of water for birds and some small animals. A small pond is also an excellent addition to help provide drinking water for animals and increase biodiversity. Ponds provide a habitat for amphibians and small fish which help control insects and provide food for larger animals.
A few simple steps can help create habitat, decrease dependence on humans, and reduce negative interactions with our animal neighbors.
Sol Looker is the Residential Horticulture Extension Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator at the Flagler County Extension Service, University of Florida. For more information email him at firstname.lastname@example.org