Tips for Attracting Wildlife And Maintaining Safety Around Your Home
The following is a list of tips I’ve compiled for attracting wildlife and maintaining safety around your home. I have been attracting wildlife to our home for many years. This list is based on my experience, research, books I’ve read, and conversations I’ve had with many people about how to safely observe and enjoy wildlife. All animals need food, shelter and water. If you can achieve a balance of those three things chances are good you will attract abundant wildlife. Everything we’ve done on our property was experimental to see if we could improve the environment while supporting local wildlife and their habitat. There’s no guarantee these tips will work, it depends upon where you live. But you may learn to avoid some common mistakes.
Bird watching is a wonderful past time. Hang a bird feeder in the city or the country and the birds will come! You will see different birds at your feeder depending on the types of feeders you hang, the season, and your location. I guarantee that if you are thinking of hanging a bird feeder and you do it, you might never take it down. Because of the large number and variety of birds you will attract by hanging feeders, it can become addictive to add more and keep them all full. Before you know it you have a dozen feeders hanging around your home. There are seed feeders, suet feeders, hummingbird, oriole and squirrel feeders. There are pole feeders, tube feeders, platform and fly through feeders, fruit and nut feeders, the list goes on an on. There are many to choose from. I always buy squirrel proof seed feeders which should not be confused with squirrel resistant feeders. Squirrels are smart and don’t usually resist for long.
Food and Water
What to feed? There are many recommendations as to what you can feed birds and some birds prefer certain foods. I have found the most practical feed is Black Oil Sunflower. Many birds feed on sunflower and you will get a great variety of birds if you feed black oil sunflower seeds. The seeds will not go to waste when they fall on the ground because other animals will eat them. What the birds don’t get the squirrels, chipmunks, and mice will clean up. I’ve tried other seed mixes such as Thistle which is very expensive to keep a feeder full, and millet which ends up all over the ground and grows luscious weeds. You can also add a birdbath or fountain. Birds prefer moving water so adding a fountain instead of a birdbath may attract more species to your backyard. Fresh running water is abundant on our property, as a result it attracts many types species which never visit our bird feeders.
Squirrels, Chipmunks and Raccoons
Caution – Before you hang a bird feeder or put any food outside your home for animals to consume you should know that inevitably you will be attracting animals you don’t want. By adding a bird feeder to your yard you will also attract squirrels, chipmunks and other rodents such as mice and moles. If you live in the country you may have raccoons or bear coming to your feeder. Always be considerate of your neighbors. Although you may enjoy the wildlife you attract, your neighbors could be very bothered by them. I knew someone who had a problem with a neighbor feeding raccoons. Raccoons and other animals can be very destructive. Please communicate with your neighbors to make sure there are no concerns about feeding wildlife in your area.
I lived in the country for over 4 years feeding the birds, adding feeders one at a time to the tree outside our home. First it was black oil sunflower, then suet. I started targeting specific birds such as Baltimore Orioles and hung orange halves with grape jelly in the tree. At one point my husband said we had the best stocked tree in the neighborhood, it looked like a fruit stand. Each year, usually in the spring I would find a couple of my feeders lying on the ground in the morning when I awoke. I always thought raccoons had been in them.
One summer day late in the afternoon I was looking out the front window. I saw a black bear walking through our front yard, six feet from our front door! It was heading for the bird feeders. Luckily our dogs started barking ferociously and it ran off. I immediately ran outside and took down all the feeders. Don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t have bear in your neighborhood just because you’ve never seen one. Black bears are quite common in the northeast and are protected so their numbers are increasing. Be sure you know what to expect when you set up a smorgasbord for wild animals near your home. If you have a black bear problem it’s best not to feed the birds or anything else close to your home. It is rumored that cayenne pepper mixed with bird food will deter squirrel and bears. I’ve had no luck mixing it with seed, but if you melt suet and mix it in, the squirrels should leave it alone. Birds don’t taste hot but squirrels do. I’m cautious about hanging fruit and suet in our tree during the spring and summer months. I use mostly seeds, unless I think a bear has been there then I take everything down. Some people say it’s safe to put food out while bears are hibernating between December and March but I’ve seen pictures of bear looking for food when they are suppose to be hibernating. Don’t be surprised if one shows up, although you are less likely to see one during the winter months.
Attracting Hummingbirds – If you hang a hummingbird feeder in the right spot you will have so many hummingbirds coming to your feeder you will soon feel obligated to buy more feeders so they all have the opportunity to feed from them. Placement of your hummingbird feeder is important. If you hang it up and no hummingbirds come, move it. Keep moving your feeder until you find a spot they prefer. I got lucky on this one. I hung my feeder on the corner of our house which is located in the middle of the yard. The hummingbirds had access to it from many different directions with plenty of places to hide. Hummingbirds are territorial and will defend their feeder. I hung a second feeder only because it was given to me by my mom who didn’t want hers anymore. When I added the second feeder it was up for grabs. I got more hummingbird traffic than I could have imagined! No one bird could keep constant watch over the two feeders at one time. This was the key to attracting lots of them in addition to having the feeders placed in the right spots. Now, I routinely hang three or four hummingbird feeders outside out home beginning the first week of May through the end of September.
Ants and Bees
Deterring Insects – Each of my hummingbird feeders has an upside down soda cap filled with petroleum jelly threaded on the wire it hangs from. The petroleum jelly deters ants from getting into the feeder. Normally this work, but not always. There are many types of ‘ant moats’ available, if you search the internet you’ll find one that’s best for you. When bees become a nuisance I hang a bee trap with pineapple juice to attract them. You can use apple juice or fresh meat as bait too, but pineapple works best for me. If the bee trap is sweeter than the hummingbird feeder they usually go to it. The bee traps also catch flies, gnats and other pesky insects.
After years of feeding wildlife I learned that everything we did around our home to attract them had an impact. The seed feeders attracted an abundance of squirrels and chipmunks as well as mice and shrews that were happy to move into our home if they could find a way. I’ve had almost every animal you can think of take up residence in or near our house because of the abundance of food we provide for them. After I found a nest of mice living in our vinyl siding I began inspecting our home weekly looking for animal invaders. When I hung the hummingbird feeders I attracted ants and bees. All gaps in the vinyl siding had to be stuffed with insulation to keep the bees from nesting there. I routinely knock bees nest from our porch, gable vents, decks and shed. I treat the foundation around our home once or twice a year with pesticide to discourage insects from nesting and moving in.
Are bats welcome? Bats are beneficial they eat bugs by the thousands so naturally I hung a bat house in the yard where I thought it would be suitable. Bats have yet to take up residence there but they do like the nooks and crannies in our vinyl siding. I was amazed to see that a bat could squeeze into such a small crack. They really are very tiny creatures. The biggest problem here is the four corners of our house where the bats find a comfortable day time hiding place. I have stuffed these corners with rust proof screen wadded up in a ball. This allows water to drain through, but blocks off the gap between the siding where the bats were going to roost.
Grass and Woods
We never cut the grass near our tree line because it gives a hiding place or transition area for woodland animals, not to mention all of the wild flowers that grow there which also attract butterflies and other insects. We now have bunnies in great numbers which occasionally attracts a hawk or two among other things. When I first walked the wooded area of our property it seemed such a mess I was anxious to get it cleaned up. I quickly found that not only is it impossible for one person to remove all the brush and downed trees but this “clutter” in the woods provides a home to many animals. I did want paths to walk so I began making brush piles and yes, more animals moved in! Now I have many birds only common to the woodlands that nest in many brush piles that dot our woods. I also found it much easier and less time consuming to move a few sticks to a nearby pile than to carry everything out of the woods to be burned.
What to do with an old cow pond – Our property includes one small cow pond that I was eager to fix up. It seemed the only fish that inhabited it were very small sunfish. My experiment was to introduce full grown large mouth bass, which I moved from a friend’s pond to see if they could establish themselves our pond. I released the bass in April and by June that same year I had a pond full of bass minnows. I also noticed that the additional fish attracted more wildlife such as the Great Blue Heron. They feed on fish and after about 5 years ate all the bass from our pond. Even though we introduced a predator by adding large-mouth bass to our pond, we continued to see the spotted salamanders which come each year to breed there. Large mouth bass are fierce predators and will eat just about anything. They devoured most of our frogs.
One day while sitting near the pond photographing insects I saw a bunny run out from some brush. When it saw me, it quickly flattened itself to the ground and I assumed it was due to my presence which scared it. Then I saw a creature I had never encountered before. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I knew it was a fisher or a weasel or a mink but I wasn’t sure which one? I was on the ground at eye level with the thing and I didn’t know if I should sit still or run when it hissed at me. So I pointed my camera at it and started taking pictures. Turned out it was a mink and it was hunting the bunny. Minks must not be able to see well because it ran in circles looking for the bunny and relied on its sense of smell to find it. The mink did find the bunny, killed it and dragged it away while I watched. The whole episode took place in a matter of minutes and I was amazed that I was there to see it.
In order to keep squirrels away from the bird feeders I began feeding them cracked corn. Deer love corn so it wasn’t long before the deer made themselves at home in our backyard. Usually they come at night and eat whatever is leftover from the squirrels that day. Over a period of time they begin to learn your habits. When they know you mean them no harm they do not hesitate to help themselves to any meal you have near your home especially plants and flowers. Sometimes, even during the day. The deer do a wonderful job of trimming our bushes each winter when their food is scarce. In the spring they like to enjoy fresh flower buds from the lilies I rarely get to see bloom. Spraying vegetation with soapy water or planting daffodils and chives is supposed to deter deer, this didn’t work for me. I have planted plenty of shrubs and flowers so the deer can’t possibly eat all of them. The deer tend to like the same plants that I’m fond of, so I stopped feeding squirrels cracked corn. Unfortunately the deer continue to feed on all of our vegetation and have become a nuisance.
You might think all of this sounds like a lot of work, and it is. During the warm months I am very busy filling feeders and checking around the house for intrusive animals but the enjoyment I get from watching and photographing all this life thriving on our property makes the work worth it. Each winter I research new experiments to work on for the following spring and summer. Some things work and some don’t. This season I will be trying to find a way to keep my bluebird nest boxes safe from predators. I might add a Wood Duck house to the pond and there will be the usual planting of additional bushes, flowers and shrubs to keep the deer happy.
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Walk softly, let nature be your guide…
Fine Art Photographer