Managing Landscapes for Wildlife

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Yesterday morning while enjoying my morning coffee I looked out of my kitchen window and watched the birds and squirrels at the feeder. Multiple species of birds including dove, cardinal, dark-eyed junko, tit mouse, wren, chickadee, and more make the daily pilgrimage to our seed. Birds use lots of energy in cold weather to stay warm. Viewing the birds has become a morning ritual.


Wildlife is an asset to any property. Although wild animals can and do cause some damage (i.e. deer, woodpeckers, squirrels), most are beneficial, beautiful and interesting. Gardeners can encourage wildlife to visit or even live on property. Using landscape management practices that encourage wildlife can reduce the impact suburbanization has on native animals and improve wildlife habitat.


The first step in improving wildlife habitat is to plant trees and shrubs that entice wildlife. These plants must produce abundant fruit or seeds or provide cover for rest, rearing young, and shelter. There are many native plants that fit this description. These plants can be planted as single specimens to enhance a forest’s shrub layer or in conjunction with each other to form woodlands or add to existing forests.

Plants That Benefit Birds

Plant Plant type Feature Birds attracted
Oak Tree Excellent nesting; food Blue jays, sparrows, woodpeckers
Pine Tree Excellent nesting; food Robins, purple finches, mourning doves, warblers, sparrows
Evergreen holly Large shrub Shelter; food Towhees, thrashers, mockingbirds
Elderberry Large shrub Summer fruit Warblers, grosbeaks, goldfinches
Dogwood Small tree Nesting, late summer fruit Bell’s vireos, summer tanagers
American Beautyberry Shrub Late summer fruit Many birds
Native blackberry Shrub Nesting, cover, food Many birds
Arborvitae, juniper, and other conifers Tree Nesting, winter fruit Sparrows, robins, mockingbirds, many others
Winterberry Dec. Holly Small shrub Late winter fruit Robins, blackbirds, cedar waxwings

Managing Landscapes for Wildlife

There are other things that entice wildlife. Forest edges, the transition zone between forests and open spaces such as fields, are very important to native animals. This scrubby, thick, overgrown area where plants cram themselves together in competition for light provides hidden ingress and egress routes for larger mammals such as deer, opossum, raccoons, and squirrels. It provides cover for ground nesting and tree nesting birds as well as an in-between resting place for birds that reside in the treetops but feed on open ground.

forest field edge

Forests can be managed to attract more wildlife. Evenly aged stands of a single timber species host few animals. Mixed forests with trees of varying ages as well as trees of differing heights attract wildlife in abundance.

Dead trees are very important to many species of birds and mammals, but especially so to woodpeckers. These trees can be left to decompose naturally if they do not pose a risk to property. Dead or fallen trees and stumps should be left on the forest floor to provide food and shelter for fungi, beetles, centipedes, and other small creatures that make up the lower end of the food chain.

Infrequent mowing of open areas is another management technique that can add habitat for wildlife. Ground nesting birds such as quail, killdeers, and turkeys will use the area for mating, nesting, and feeding. Small mammals such as shrews, moles, and native mice will inhabit the tall grasses and weedy forbs. In turn, these animals will attract predators such as hawks and owls that may decide to nest in your forest.

All Animals Need Water

Another attractant for wildlife is water. Having a stream or pond attracts wildlife that uses the water for drinking, bathing, and food. Ducks, beaver, otter, fish, amphibians (toads, frogs, and turtles), and many important insects, such as dragonflies, inhabit these aqueous environments.

Protecting water is important. Reducing the use of chemicals is one of the best ways to reduce our impact on creeks and streams. Use less home pest control products such as insecticide, herbicide, and fungicide by using Integrated Pest Management.