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How to Create a Wildlife-Friendly Yard

Megan Dettenmaier, Extension Associate, and Michael Kuhns, Extension Specialist

12/01/2013

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Birds and other wildlife lose habitat as cities and human activities expand. You can reduce some of these negative impacts and increase the value of your yard and garden to wildlife by providing their four basic requirements: food, water, cover, and a safe place to rear young.

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Habitat can be hard to come by for wildlife in urban areas. A wildlife-friendly yard provides food, water, cover, and a safe place to rear young.

Food

Native forbs, shrubs and trees provide food for wildlife and birds with their foliage, nectar, pollen, fruit (berries, seeds, nuts, etc.), and bark. You can select the landscape plants that will attract the birds and other wildlife you want to encourage from the list at the end of this fact sheet. When food is scarce in winter it can be helpful to place feeders for birds in your yard to supplement naturally occurring food. You can also attract butterflies to your yard by supplementing their food sources. Mix 9 parts water to 1 part sugar, pour the mixture over cut up old, mushy fruit–oranges, peaches or pears–on a plate and suspend the plate high in a tree to prevent unwanted wildlife from disturbing the feeder. Hummingbirds are attracted to red, tubular flowers and feeders can provide food when flowering species are scarce. Information on hummingbird feeders, nectar recipes and the importance of maintaining clean feeders can be found online.

Bird on fat cake

Homemade Fat Cakes for Birds

Warm 1 part fat (lard or suet) in a heavy-bottomed pan, then mix in 2 parts dry mix (any combination of bird seed, cornmeal, unsalted seeds and nuts) and stir. Poke a hole in the bottom of a single serving yogurt cup, thread string through the hole, and press the warm suet mixture into the cup around the string. Place filled cups in the freezer and when hardened, cut the yogurt cup away and hang the cake in a tree. Kitchen scraps, such as bits of fruit or vegetables, may be used in the fat cake, but avoid salty items such as salted nuts or bacon. Unsalted peanut butter may be added to the mixture along with equal parts dry mix. You can also collect large pine cones, tie a string to one end, press fat mixture onto the cone, and suspend from a tree.

Water

Installing a water source in your yard is a simple way to benefit wildlife and birds. Clean water is essential but often not available in the arid West. Provide water in a bird bath or other water feature. Anything that will hold water will work, like a hubcap or a similar shallow basin. Remember to clean the water source weekly and change the water two to three times a week. 

Water basin

Cover

Birds and other wildlife require cover to be safe from predators, weather, and people. Increasing plant structure between the ground and tree canopies with shrubs and non-woody plants is called vertical layering. By creating a multi-layered vegetation structure in your yard, you can provide cover for a variety or birds, other wildlife, and insects. Choose native plant species when possible (see list at the end of this fact sheet). When pruning vegetation and mowing your lawn, let some areas or branches go uncut. They will provide seeds and cover for small species such as insects, frogs, and other amphibians.

Safe Place to Rear Young

It takes a lot of energy for wildlife to successfully rear young in the wild. This effort increases when safe nesting spots are scarce. You can ease some of this pressure for nesting species by placing birdhouses, bat boxes or nest boxes in your yard. 

Woodpeckers, nuthatches, creepers and wrens require cavities for nesting. Leaving dead snags on the landscape will benefit these species, although large snags can be dangerous. To determine the best birdhouse design to incorporate into your yard, see recommendations from the National Wildlife Federation. Type “birdhouse” in the search feature.

You can contribute to a long-standing database on birds currently being collected by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Visit nestwatch.org and record the species you observe every day.

Wildlife-friendly Fences

Ranch Fences

Fences are an important part of any yard or landscape. They are necessary for determining property boundaries, controlling trespass, and in the case of farmers and ranchers, enclosing pastures.

Residential Fences

The most important factor to consider when constructing or retrofitting the fence in your yard is ensuring that it is visible to birds and other wildlife. When fences are difficult to see, wildlife can collide or become caught in them. If you have a wire fence in your yard, consider placing a wood rail or PVC pipe on top to increase visibility and safety for jumping deer. Many decorative fence designs can be hazards to deer or other ungulates. Fences with sharp tips should be avoided if possible. Wildlife- and bird-friendly options include chain-link, post and rail, post and pole, or board fences. You can even create a vegetative barrier with shrubs and/or small trees. Good yard barrier shrub species include thimbleberry, raspberry, blackberry, snowberry, wild rose, Oregon-grape, barberry, and firethorn.

Sharp-tipped fence

Wildlife friendly fence

Sharp-tipped fences, like the one pictured at left, can pose danger to jumping deer and other wildlife. A wildlife-friendly fence example is at the right.

Are bats good for your yard? Bats are the only true flying mammal in the world. Eighteen bat species exist in Utah. Of these only three exist in urban landscapes: the little brown bat, the big brown bat, and the Brazilian free-tailed bat. Their diet consists primarily of beetles, mosquitoes, moths, wasps, and midges. A single little brown bat can consume up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in just one hour. Maintaining healthy bat populations benefits ecosystems because bats pollinate flowers and crops, eat some of the most damaging agricultural insects, and disperse a wide variety of seeds. Bat populations are declining almost everywhere due to pesticides, insecticides, habitat degradation, and cave disturbances. You can easily build a bat house (see http://www.batcon.org) and give these important mammals a place to live. Incorporating a bat house into your yard can help reduce pests and ensure that these important mammals have a safe place to rear their young.

Too many deer in your yard already? Every year, especially in the winter, wildlife agencies receive complaints from people that deer are eating the vegetation in their yard. There are many aspects to the complex problem, but one thing that most parties agree on is the need to improve native deer habitat. Focusing on boosting the quality of native deer habitat will likely deter deer from seeking forage in the yards and gardens of urban and suburban residents living along the Wasatch Front and elsewhere. See our factsheet here for more information about deer in landscapes.

Natives are best: Why go native? Native plants are hardy to local growing and soil conditions. Native species are more likely to be healthy and to require fewer chemical treatments and less maintenance and water than non-native species. Choosing native plants will benefit birds, other wildlife and insects, and in the long run will ultimately save time and resources. It’s important to know what is native to your particular site. Quaking aspen, for example, is native to Utah’s mountains, but not to low elevations where most people live. It does not do well in hot, dry, low-elevation sites.

Herbaceous Perennials Species Benefitted
Common Name Scientific Name Hummingbirds Bees Butterflies Birds Small Mammals
abelia Abelia spp.     X    
ageratum, purple Ageratum spp.     X    
alyssum, sweet Lobularia maritima X        
aster, Frikart’s Aster x frikartii     X    
bee balm, scarlet Monarda didyma X X X    
beeplant, Rocky Mountain Cleome serrulata   X      
black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta     X    
bluebeard Caryopteris divaricata     X    
buckwheat, sulphurflower Eriogonum umbellatum   X X   X
butterfly weed Asclepias tuberosa     X    
cardinal flower Lobelia cardinalis     X    
catnip Nepeta cataria     X    
columbine Aquilegia spp. X X      
coneflower, purple Echinacea purpurea   X X X  
coralbells Heuchera sanguinea X        
coreopsis, giant Coreopsis gigantea X   X    
coreopsis, threadleaf Coreopsis verticillata     X    
daisy, Shasta Leucanthemum x superbum     X    
dandelion Taraxacum officinale X   X    
desert lavender Hyptis emoryi X X X    
dill Anethum graveolens     X    
evening primrose, white-tufted Oenothera caespitosa     X    
four o’clock Mirabilis multiflora X        
foxglove Digitalis spp. X        
gilia, scarlet Ipomposis aggregata X        
goldenrod Solidago spp.   X X   X
hyssop, anise or blue giant Agastache foeniculum X X X    
Indian paintbrush, narrowleaf Castilleja linariifolia X        
larkspur Delphinium spp. X   X    
lemon balm Melissa officinalis     X    
lily, tiger Lilium lancifolium X        
lupine Lupinus perennis     X    
marigold, French Tagetes patula     X    
milkweed Asclepias spp.     X    
mint Mentha spp.   X X    
parsley Petroselinum crispum     X    
penstemon, firecracker Penstemon eatonii X X X X X
phlox, garden Phlox paniculata X   X    
prairie clover, western Dalea ornata   X X    
rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis     X X  
sage Salvia officinalis X   X    
speedwell Veronica spp. X        
sunflower Helianthus annuus       X  
sweet William Dianthus barbatus X   X    
thistle, New Mexico Cirsium neomexicanum   X X    
thyme Thymus praecox     X    
trumpet, hummingbird Epilobium canum X X      
valerian, red Centranthus ruber   X X    
yarrow, common Achillea millefolium   X X   X
yucca, red Hesperaloe parviflora X   X    
zinnia, narrowleaf Zinnia angustifolia     X    
Shrubs  
acacia, catclaw Acacia greggii   X X X X
Apache plume Fallugia paradoxa       X X
bitterbrush Purshia tridentata   X   X X
buffaloberry, roundleaf Sheperdia rotundifolia       X X
buffaloberry, silver Sheperdia argentea   X      
butterflybush, woolly Buddleia marrubiifolia X X X    
chokecherry Prunus virginiana   X X X  
cinquefoil, shrubby Potentilla fruticosa   X X    
cliffrose Purshia mexicana         X
creosotebush Larrea tridentata   X   X X
currant, golden Ribes aureum X X X X X
dalea, Gregg Dalea greggii   X X    
dogwood, redosier Cornus sericea     X X  
elderberry, blue Sambucus caerulea   X   X X
fernbush Chamaebatiaria millefolium   X X    
greasewood Sarcobatus vermiculatus         X
honeysuckle, Utah Lonicera utahensis       X X
indigo bush Amorpha fruticosa   X X    
lilac Syringa vulgaris     X    
mesquite, western honey Prosopis glandulosa   X      
mockorange Philadelphus lewisii X   X X  
Mormon tea Ephedra viridis       X X
mountain-mahogany, alderleaf Cercocarpus montanus     X X X
oak, shrub live Quercus turbinella       X X
rabbitbrush, yellow Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus     X X X
rose, Woods’ Rosa woodsii   X   X X
sage, fringed Artemisia frigida     X X X
sage, purple Poliomintha incana   X X    
sage, sand Artemisia filifolia   X   X X
sagebrush, big Artemisia tridentata       X X
sagebrush, silver Artemisia cana       X X
saltbush, four-wing Atriplex canescens       X X
sand cherry, western Prunus besseyi   X X    
serviceberry, Utah Amelanchier utahensis       X X
skunkbush Rhus trilobata       X X
snowberry, common Symphoricarpos albus       X X
stretchberry Forestiera pubescens var. pubescens   X X X X
sumac Rhus spp.     X X X
viburnum Viburnum spp.     X   X
willow Salix spp.       X X
willow, sandbar Salix interior       X X
winterfat Krascheninnikovia lanata       X X
yucca, soap tree Yucca elata     X   X
Trees  
alder Alnus spp. X        
alder, gray Alnus incana       X X
alder, thinleaf Alnus tenuifolia X     X X
ash, singleleaf Fraxinus anomala       X X
birch, water Betula occidentalis X     X X
catalpa, southern Catalpa bignoniodes X        
cottonwood, Fremont Populus fremontii       X X
cottonwood, narrowleaf Populus angustifolia       X X
desert-willow Chilopsis linearis X X X X  
Douglas-fir Pseudotsuga menziesii       X X
fir, subalpine Abies lasiocarpa       X X
hawthorn, Douglas Crataegus douglasii   X X X  
horsechestnut Aesculus hippocastanum X       X
juniper, Utah Juniperus osteosperma       X X
locust, black Robinia pseudoacacia X X X    
locust, New Mexico Robinia neomexicana X X X X X
maple, bigtooth Acer grandidentatum       X X
mountain-mahogany, curlleaf Cercocarpus ledifolius       X X
mountainash, Greene Sorbus scopulina       X  
mesquite, velvet Prosopis velutina   X   X X
oak, gambel Quercus gambelii     X X X
pine, pinyon Pinus edulis       X X
pinyon, singleleaf Pinus monophylla   X X X X
spruce Picea spp.       X X
Vines  
grape, Arizona Vitis arizonica       X X
honeysuckle, twinberry Lonicera involucrata X X X X  
trumpet creeper Campsis radicans X   X    

Resources

Many resources are available for people interested in designing and maintaining landscapes for wildlife. These include:

Landscaping for a variety of species in the Rocky Mountain Region

General info on landscaping for wildlife:

Landscape tips specific for Utah

General info on landscaping for birds and bats:

Photo Credits ordered by appearance

  1. Flickr user “Dendroica cerulea”
  2. Flickr user “Nieve44/Luz"
  3. Flickr user “DieselDemon”
  4. Flickr user “Alexcion”

Photos are licensed under the Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution License


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Published December 2013.