Does anybody have any tips for attracting animals to a small yard in a mostly urban area?
What sort of animals do you have in mind? Birds? Lizards? In my small urban yard, there are no mammals I’d want to intentionally attract!
As a general rule you’d like to focus on getting more native plants and recreate something that would look like a natural environment other than a “normal” green grass yard, there’re some topics about that, but depends on your location, plants, including trees, shrubs, grass-like and even mosses and liveworts will attract birds, well, rodents, insects, mollusks, spiders, etc. Adding something like a pond/birdbath can mean you can add fish and amphibians, but first need some space, so it depends on how big your territory is. Look up what is popular now in landscape design, there’re some amazing schemes of how to add running water even to a small yard with many water plants to add.
I agree with the first post, you want to ask yourself what sort of animals you want to attract. In general I think a good way to start is to increase the native plant biodiversity in your yard, which will likely attract a whole plethora of insects and invertebrates.
My garden has a variety of fruiting trees including Indian plum, starfruit, bananas and palms. I have frugivorous birds, bats, squirrels, treeshrews and civets.
Unfortunately I also have a fairly regular visit from a spitting cobra. Be careful what you’re wishing for.
The two big things that I would suggest are planting plenty of native plants (the more diversity and population the better), and to provide water, especially if you’re in an arid or semi-arid climate. Water sources and native plants provide food and water, but also shelter, which many people forget is necessary when creating wildlife habitat.
If you want to attract birds, I would recommend building a pond (if you have enough space). I have a small pond which is very popular with the birds, and they need the water for the dry summers here in Los Angeles. If you don’t have space for a pond, bird baths would also work (you need to keep them clean), but the best habitat imitates a natural system. If you want to put up feeders to attract birds, that’s a great idea, but I would suggest taking them down once you’ve planted enough native plants. Birds also like shelter and nesting areas, so I have nesting boxes and roosting boxes, and you should also keep patches of undisturbed tall grasses and native shrubs and trees for nesting and shelter.
Water sources are also essential for providing habitat for amphibians, especially if you include native wetland plants.
If you want to attract reptiles, I’ve found that the best way is to provide hiding and basking places. I have piles of sticks and logs from pruning trees that I leave for the lizards, and they love my compost pile (I think they like eating the black soldier fly larvae). They also like having rocks in full sun that they can warm up on, and if the rocks are piled they provide plenty of hiding places too.
For attracting insects, I provide plenty of flowering plants, piled brush, and mulch. I also have a reed box for solitary bees, and I keep some areas unplanted for ground-nesting bees. A suitable water source is also necessary, especially for an arid or semi-arid climate. I have floating plants in my pond that bees and other insects can land on and drink from, and I also leave out trays of water full of gravel when it gets extremely hot so insects can get water without drowning.
If you provide insect food and habitat, it also provides food and habitat for spiders and other arthropods, as well as for insectivorous birds.
For bats, roosting boxes are important as well as water sources (ponds or bird baths, again).
For other mammals, the habitat that you provide for the other animals is often sufficient. My pond attracts plenty of raccoons in addition to everything else.
The main point is to imitate the natural habitat in your area. If you live in a former forest, plant native canopy trees and recreate the forest from there. If you live in a former grassland, plant native grasses and herbaceous plants and recreate the grassland. I live in a former wetland, so I’m trying to recreate the diverse wetland ecosystem of my area with landscaping and planting. It’s important to tailor the landscape to your specific conditions.
I took a look at your bio to see where you’re at and your habitat won’t be far of from mine in Minnesota (we’re colder!). We live in a very urban backyard (although not far from many parks and natural areas) and we kind of happened into a more diverse backyard because we happened to like our plantings a bit on the wild side. I once picked up a bit of rotten tree that fell off a park board truck and put it in the backyard to decompose. We also put limbs that fall off our birch tree along the borders of the garden areas to decompose. We have quite a bit of cover like a way too large pine tree that started life as an Arbor Day sapling the kids brought home from school along with other small shrubs, bushes, and grape vines. We don’t use any sprays on the yard or garden.
We put out a bird bath which benefits the birds, squirrels and the occasional raccoon that happens by in the night. We also have a small plant saucer on the ground we keep filled with water. And we have bird feeders which attract birds and, by happenstance, squirrels, rabbits and mice.
And that’s the thing, as mentioned by others, there are things you don’t want to attract to your yard. Mice can be really destructive if they get into your garage, for example. You certainly don’t want rats. And I wouldn’t want to encourage raccoons, although we don’t mind them rambling through. For those in more suburban locations, bears and deer can be a problem when they overlap into people spaces. Some people on my block hate rabbits with a passion. The rabbits certainly like some of our plants way too much but we just fence off the vegetable garden and then let them be. Any plant the rabbits just won’t leave alone gets eliminated from the yard by attrition.
I think it would be easiest to think small. Birds are easy to encourage. But planting a native garden that attracts pollinators can be really fun to observe. We put in a small pollinator garden and was gifted a bee house (controversial, but you can decide) and over the years we’ve had honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, mason bees, miner bees, hover flies, long-legged flies, and various small wasps along with the larger - arguably more menacing ones, although I’ve never been bothered by them. You might start getting spiders in areas that allowed to go a little ‘wild’ (by urban yard standards).
You can also read up on how to attract bees and butterflies with different types of water set ups. They really need something that caters to their watering habits and something that can be cleaned easily.
If you start working on attracting the birds and the bees, you might find conditions improve for other wildlife you wouldn’t expect. Cover for the birds works as cover for the shrews and rabbits. Plantings for pollinators might encourage spiders to set up household. Small critters attract hawks and owls who are always welcome, as members of nature, to our backyard.
And if you start doing some of this in your yard, you can be a great model and educator for other people in your neighborhood to let their yard go just a little bit wilder. I happen to live on a block where most of my neighbors have moved - over the last few decades - to much less mowed grass and way more decorative, vegetable/herb, and native plantings. Together we get some decent showings of wildlife - helped by our proximity to creeks, rivers and lakes. In my neighborhood and in my friend’s neighborhood a half mile away, we’ve seen opossums, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, red and gray squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, mice, shrews, voles, and moles.
How to get started? You can read up on the internet but it does help to think ‘local’. What works for you won’t necessarily work for me in Minnesota. Visit area nature centers, get on their mailing lists and watch for workshops. Look for info on what are native plant in your county/state, talk to plant nurseries about the stock they sell (lots of places sell plants that are treated with neonicotinoids to kill pests - those plants will kill bees as well!). Find nurseries who sell native plants that are not treated with insecticides.
Maybe you can journal about your goals, plans, experiments, successes and failures. That would be fun to read! It was kind of a long process for us but we never thought of it that way. We just did something every year and enjoyed doing it and enjoyed the results of each thing we added. Don’t be discouraged by not getting HUGE results quickly. Think of it as - every little bit helps - and every little bit is a learning experience. Good luck. :-)
(I am always long winded - I’m known for being quite the Ent… for any who gets that reference!)
Welp, at least here I don’t have venomous snakes, but I get your point all the same
I don’t mind that being long-winded at all! In fact, I appreciate it all the more. I definitely agree with your points about not wanting to attract rats and raccoons and the like, and yes I was thinking more along the lines of birds, some different species of invertebrates, etc. And maybe providing more cover and places for the small brownsnakes I’ve seen in the yard. I’ll try to get my hands on some feeders, a birdbath, and maybe a bird house or two and see if I can attract any feathery friends. The house with the yard in question is one that my family has moved into only a few months ago, so the yard still isn’t exactly the way we want it. There are a lot of non-native plants, but as those die off replacing them with some native ones might help, as many in this thread have said. Thank you for your advice!
These are all great tips! I’ll try to use as many of them as I can. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to include tons of shelter, a pond, and tall grasses, or at least not on a very big scale, because I think my yard is a little too tiny for most things like that. However, I’ll try to use the same points and maybe just make them smaller. The area I live in, or the parks around here at least, are mostly forests, so imitating that might help a bit. Thank you for your time!
Yeah, adding some more native plants around here would probably help. My family moved into this house recently and we haven’t really added or gotten rid of any of the plants the last owner planted, so I’ll have to see what I can do about that.
Wow, there’s lots of cool stuff online for adding water, and a bunch of other stuff to small yards. I’ll have to look into that some more.
I’m mostly thinking birds, insects, and providing some cover for the local Dekay’s Brownsnake population.
If you live within its native range, you could try planting cup plant to act as a water source. It works well if your yard is too small to build a water feature
You just have a blank slate! :-)
We just dug up a little section of our yard every year or so and planted something other than grass. Most of our stuff isn’t native. Only the small pollinator garden is. The rest are iris, ferns, hostas, myrtle, rhododendrons, azaleas, wild ginger, jacob’s ladder, etc (can you tell we have a shady yard!). I would love to have garter snakes or frogs in our yard. But I doubt we ever would. But we have nature areas nearby where we can see them so I don’t mind so much.
We have cup plants growing in our alley where no one tends them at all. They are hardy - and tall!
Not to sound dumb, but how do cup plants act as a water source? I did a quick Google search and all I can find are pictures of their bright yellow flowers.
the leaves clasp the stem and create a bowl shape that water can collect in. Of course, it has to have a water source (rain) for this to happen. But you could ‘water’ the bowl if there wasn’t any rain and you wanted a garden water source.
see this image: https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/32680?size=large
I think providing water and moisture is a big attractor (as many have said). Sure, Water for drinking, but also enough moisture enough to allow some small wildlife to take hold (worms, Arthropoda). Insects, etc., are a pretty good food source for the the other fauna in the area. And, as many native plants as you can support for food and shelter.
I recently moved to a more rural setting. It’s a bit soon to say, but we seemed to have much more wildlife in the irrigated, landscaped condos where I used to live than we have in the mostly unirrigated, semi-rural area I am at now. I assume the reason we have fewer birds is because it is more arid here.
I imagine you may want to re-evaluate pest management practices that may be happening around your yard, just to limit how many of the local critters are getting poisoned by pesticides.
I hope you enjoy great success in rewilding your yardscape!
If you chose to use feeders, please take care. In populated areas, the easiest and least expensive ways to feed will tend to strongly favor any house sparrows and/or starlings. These birds are invasive in North America and will compete with, displace, empty nests of, or even kill native birds and diminish the biodiversity of an area. If the feeder allows food to fall to the ground, that may bring rats, another threat to native wildlife.
House sparrows can be particularly present. As adults, they can be sustained by seed, but need animal protein as growing juveniles. In breeding season, a population inflated by year-round subsidizing can greatly outnumber and is in direct competition for arthropods with native birds who don’t benefit as much from those feeders. They are more aggressive than the native birds and behave in anti-competitive ways like nest destruction, even with larger birds, like robins, and killing young inside and outside of nests. They have been a noted issue with blue birds, but affect many other native species.
Feeding seed while deterring house sparrows where there are many might require special effort and multiple strategies. Offering food that attracts natives, but is of little or no interest to invasives may be the simplest. A hummingbird feeder is one option. Safflower seed is loved by cardinals and chickadees, our downy woodpeckers like it, and the mourning doves seem to like it. House sparrows usually have little interest. Striped(not black oil) sunflower seeds are too difficult to open for them, but are easy for a cardinal and are a big enough seed to be worth the extra effort for a chickadee.
Upside down and cling feeders make things difficult for birds with a weaker grip, like invasives, but remains accessible to clinging birds like goldfinches, nuthatches, chickadees, and woodpeckers. Sometimes, it may take a while for the native bird to catch on to how to use these feeders. House sparrows also seem averse to shiny foil/silvery mylar, and certain obstacles. Please keep food fresh and feeders clean.
If possible, anything that can be done to prevent invasives nesting nearby will also help your yard favor native birds. This can sometimes be as simple as obstructing a gap under an awning. In breeding season, males will advertise potential nest sites, making them easier to find.