Tips For Attracting Animals To Small Urban Yards

I’m very aware of all the house sparrows and starlings in my area, in fact unfortunately they’re the birds I see the most around here. I’ll definitely do my best to deter invasives, with either a special feeder design or some other tactic.

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There are some good tips here already, especially in regards to bringing in a diversity of native plants. Based on my experiences, I’d like to add a few more:

  1. Consider layering and vertical habitat when planning your plantings, i.e. groundcovers, short and tall grasses and perennials, shrubs, and trees. If you have a porch or the space for an arbor, a climbing vine might be nice. Not all animals live at the same “level” and having some habitat elevated from the ground will bring in more diversity. Evergreens provide shelter for the winter.
  2. Consider edge effects, i.e. borders between mowed and unmowed sections etc. I’ve noticed a lot of activity and diversity along those kinds of edges, both the insects and birds foraging for them. The more diverse the habitat, the more diverse the animals attracted to it.
  3. Resist the temptation to cut and rake and cover everything with mulch. Leaf litter, hollow perennial stalks, and other “messy” areas is where a lot of insects including bees and butterflies get through the winter. I have some ground-nesting bees that make their home in bare soil.
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Trust me, I despise mulch. Having a nice wild-looking yard in contrast to the bright green and routinely mowed lawns of my neighbors is nice, in my opinion. I think a hanging vine or two to hang on my porch would actually be a really useful addition! I don’t have an evergreen tree, but I have a pretty tall willow tree that has brought the likes of mourning doves, cardinals, squirrels, and sparrows (so far).

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if you have room for a kiddie pool in your yard, then you have room for a small pond in your yard! i saw someone i know had a few, so when i saw i perfectly fine little kiddie pool on the curb for trash pickup, i took it home to turn into a pond. its been going very well so far!

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I have a standard tray-style feeder, but surprisingly it doesn’t attract many house sparrows. Within a half-hour, it might attract 5 house sparrows, while in the same time it’s visited by 40 lesser goldfinches and 15 house finches. The pond actually attracts more house sparrows than the feeder. I don’t know why the house sparrows don’t prefer the feeder as much, but maybe it’s because the lesser goldfinches are so aggressive? They seem to gang up on other birds (except for house finches who don’t seem to care) and push them off the feeder. Or perhaps there’s some aspect of the feeder’s geometry that makes it difficult for house sparrows to perch on? There are plenty of house sparrows in the area (including nesting in my roof), so it seems strange that they would be underrepresented.

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Less irrigation in your new surroundings.
But maybe more agrichemicals and less insects, with that ripple effect on all biodiversity.

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Yes, seems possible. There is an empty 10-acre field across the street, but it has been fallow for many years. Alas, it is slated to be developed sometime in the future.

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That sounds like a cool idea! How do you transform a kiddie pool into a wildlife pond?

Here are some useful webpages.

A Yard Full of Native Plants Is a Yard Full of Well-Fed Birds | All About Birds All About Birds

17 Tips for Making Your Backyard Wildlife Friendly on a Budget | Audubon

How to Make Your Yard Bird-Friendly | Audubon

If you want to plant for pollinating insects:

Native Plants for Pollinators | Bee Lab (osu.edu)

There is a link on this page for downloading a “Attracting Birds in Ohio” publication from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that is VERY good. It has bird feeder designs (plans with dimensions) and bird house designs (plans with dimensions) in it. It is free.

I looked up your iNat profile. You are in PA, right? So, you should get similar birds to what we get in Ohio.

Backyard Wildlife | Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ohiodnr.gov)

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Thanks!

Add stones and pebbles to make a sloping beach on one side, so small creatures can get to the water, and out again. Choose local water plants.

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This is a great question and goal. I’ve let my suburban yard grow wild with some planting and lots of “weeds”: 20 native trees and shrubs, many wildflowers (Penstemon!) and grasses (gramas mostly), 4 bird baths, and a small pond. The gravel in front (see pic 1) was initially undesirable (previous owner replaced a lawn), but has proven to trap windblown seeds (see Prairie sunflowers in pic 2) and a decent mulch to hold in moisture, block tumbleweeds, and prevent erosion. I had a big brush pile last winter hopping with juncos.

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i put it in the ground like a pond liner. gave it a bottom of peat moss, and like @dianastruder said, i have a little beach on one side, but mine is made of dirt, so i needed plants to root to hold it in place and so far that’s been working well. i was lucky to know someone that had regular native plant sales that had wetland plants, so i was able to buy a lot of nice things to start it off. i also collected water plants from the lake i have behind my house, and a lot of vallisneria americana got stranded on my lawn after flooding so i put that in there, but it can also be ordered online if that works better lol. the more plants the better to fight off algae. i still have algae issues but my fish are doing fine and its been over half a year now. you dont need fish, but since at least where i am theres a lot of potential for mosquito-borne diseases i added some fish to eat them, mosquitofish and kilifish. i dont think the pool could support any larger fish than that. i also added some bladderwort because i hear it eats mosquito larvae, but that might not be true. it doesnt hurt, though. you would probably benefit by having snails, since they do great at cleaning up algae and detritus, but you gotta make sure they belong there, or else they can become invasive. all my snails either came in on the native local plants or were added from the lake. im sure adding filters or things like that would be helpful, but at least so far mine is doing fine without. i made sure it was very well-filled with plants from the second it was set up to compensate for the lack of electrical parts.

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Build a pond, and grow some grass long, that helped for me, and I ended up with toads, newts frogs, mice and many birds. (Also use a birdfeeder)

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That sounds like a great way to make a pond! Mind adding some pictures of yours so I can get some inspiration?

Wow, that’s really cool! But also dangerous I agree. Cobras have always fascinated me.

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And, back on the topic… well, I’m not-so-familiar with US wildlife but I would advise the following:

Please, avoid planting foreign/exotic bushes or trees. Animals are more likely to forage on native berries; plus exotic plants may be toxic for them.

Having a small pond and some lush trees will certainly attract birds. Feeders must be temporary, or else the birds may like them more than the natural fruits and seeds!

Put some rocks or stone murals for lizards. Some shelter is OK (again, I’m not familiar with temperate zone plants, but I find most Microlophus sp. here in Bougainvillea, Antigonon leptopus and Heliotropium curassavicum grasslands).

Animals will be drawn to their former habitats. If you live in a semi-wet temperate forest, then try to get the habitat as close as posible, to make it continous. Cities tend to divide the ecosystems.

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I noticed that a tarmac lying on the grass attracts lots of animals. Dew collects in the folds, and those are visited by insects looking for water. Underneath, I found toads, snails, ants and all sorts of life. Also reptiles, of course. During the hottest hours of the day even those species that are active during the day prefer to rest in its shade. This is the latest encounter:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/90659960

Rectangular 90l containers leaning vertically against a fence, with some rainwater at the bottom, were chosen by a surprising number of spiders of the same species:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/87681646

When you attract insects, you eventually also attract their predators.

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Fish are not necessary to keep mosquitoes away from a pond, in fact they’re much less effective than the predatory aquatic insects they deter.
A well enstablished pond will contain backswimmers, dragonflies, pond beetles and similar predators. Once these animals colonize a body of water mosquitoes will stop visiting it altogether. They are a pioneer species and only reproduce in habitats where their natural enemies can’t settle, like very shallow swamps, puddles and manmade containers such as buckets and bins.

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Our neighborhood squirrels won’t leave my bird feeder alone so I’ve set up a separate feeder for them. I have had these squirrel feeders for quite some time now, and I have no regrets. Unfortunately, a strong wind storm hit our area, and I had to replace them.

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