Creating a space in your backyard to host wildlife not only adds an extra element of nature to your landscape, but it helps support the ecosystem by giving animals a safe space to visit.

To attract birds, squirrels and other small visitors into your yard, create a habitat that offers a combination of food, water, shelter, and space arranged to meet their needs. Begin by identifying what offerings you currently have that will make your yard a welcoming oasis for wildlife. Trees and shrubs are the backbone of any landscaping design and are important in providing shelter to wildlife, an essential component for animals so they feel safe from predators, humans and poor weather conditions. In addition, many smaller trees and shrubs are colorful in the spring when they flower, and provide berries for fall and winter feed.

The best trees, shrubs and plants to support wildlife are:

  • Oak Trees - They support more than 500 species of butterflies and moths, and their acorns provide a food source for small mammals, like squirrels, and birds.
  • Goldenrods - Goldenrods support more than 100 different species of moths and butterflies. They are also an important nectar source for bees and insect pollinators. 
  • Black Cherry - Black Cherries support several hundred species of moths and butterflies, plus their beautiful white blooms provide nectar for bees and other pollinating insects, their fruit provides food for birds and small mammals, and their trunks are foraging ground for woodpeckers.
  • Asters - Asters are second only to Goldenrods in terms of the number of moths and butterflies they support-112 different species!
  • Willows - Willows form large shrubs or small trees that stabilize streambanks, remove pollution from water, and provide food for almost 500 different moths and butterflies.

Additionally, flowering annuals and perennials add color to the yard and can be added at any stage to attract birds and butterflies.

The best annuals and perennials to attract and support wildlife include:

  • Cosmos
  • Marigolds
  • Sunflowers
  • Cleome
  • Zinnias
  • Coreopsis
  • Echinacea
  • Elecampane
  • Globe Thistle
  • Sedum
  • Milkweed

If your yard is large, consider using part of it for tall native grasses that provide beauty, as well as a natural source of food and shelter.

A native wildflower garden provides food and shelter for wildlife as well. To make your garden the most natural looking, avoid planting in straight lines and perfect symmetry. A natural habitat has curves and clumps of vegetation.

Ensure the habitat you offer includes water options which are essential to wildlife for drinking and bathing. While the water sources you provide can certainly be grand – such as fountains or ponds - most animals will get what they need from bird baths, rain gardens, and the like.

Once the basic offerings of food, water, and shelter are available, you should see wildlife begin to take up residence in your yard. Creating or enhancing a welcoming habitat is a great project for children as well as experienced nature enthusiasts.  

Photo courtesy of The LaurelRock Company, Wilton, CT.

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