The following checklist will steer you toward the basic steps to take in any habitat improvement effort.
Four fundamentals for success:
- Food: All wildlife species have unique food requirements. These change with the seasons, and as animals mature. To meet these needs, provide plants (both aquatic and terrestrial) that yield a variety of foods, such as berries, fruits, nuts, acorns, grasses, and legumes. Remember: Plants also attract insects, which appeal to birds and other creatures.
- Water: Animals need water year-round. Be doubly sure that they have access to a source of water in winter. Springs, marshes, creeks, swamps, rivers, and lakes are all important sources, but so are puddles, fountains, and birdbaths. Even a child's plastic wading pool can be a source of water for wildlife. Note, however, that dripping or flowing water is more appealing to most wildlife than still water.
- Shelter: Wild animals need cover to protect themselves from predators and bad weather. Trees, shrubs, legumes, grasses, flowers, and such structures as rock piles, brush piles, tree hollows, and bird houses are among the many forms of shelter that provide wildlife with hiding spots and places to raise their young. For example, hawks and other raptors like to hide in trees and swoop to the ground to catch mice and other small animals.
- Space: Every species has its own spatial or territorial needs. A common loon, for example, will defend up to 40 hectares of lake or wetland as nesting territory, whereas a ruffed grouse needs only about four hectares. Birds such as wood ducks and purple martins do not defend the territory around their nests at all.
Requirements beyond the four basics:
- Variety: The more types of native plants, the merrier. A wide selection will appeal to a wide range of wildlife, and variety means that the cupboard will never be bare, even if bugs or disease kill some kinds of plants.
- Change of seasons: The four basic habitat needs must be taken into consideration year-round. If you plant for all seasons, you will prevent wild creatures from going hungry - even in the worst wintry weather.
- Arrangement: To suit your furred or feathered friends, the four basics must be arranged with care. If, for instance, you want to improve eating opportunities, make sure shelter is available nearby. Wild animals often have to "eat and run", seeking cover before they themselves are eaten up.
- Protection: Reflective windows are a crash hazard for birds. You can protect them from unfortunate collisions by sticking a silhouette of a predator, like a falcon, on each pane of glass. Streamers or netting over a window will provide even better protection.
- Native plants and seeds: Try to use native species of plants and seeds. This will give our wild plant heritage a boost, and provide long-lasting food and cover for all sorts of animals. Seek advice from your nearest nursery, arboretum, the botany department of a nearby university, or your regional department of wildlife, agriculture, or forestry to ensure you select the best plants for your area. It is unacceptable to take plants out of the wild.
- Climate: Plants that prefer the climate of your area will last a long time after you put them in the ground. Choose hardy species that will live for years.
- Soils: Healthy soils produce healthy plants. Information about this important component of habitat is available from federal or regional departments of agriculture, or nurseries and garden centres.