Urbanization has led to a significant decrease in biodiversity. Humans have traded natural landscapes for cookie-cutter houses and manicured lawns, sacrificing local fauna’s habitat, health and safety.
As a homeowner, you’re responsible for recreating these lost, beautiful spaces for wildlife. Here are nine ways to improve your house and property to ensure it’s fauna-friendly and humane.
1. Grow Native Plants
While big periwinkle can add a pop of purple to any garden, Californians are warned not to plant the rapid-spreading, invasive flora. It becomes dense groundcover and may negatively alter local hydrology and cause pest infestations. Big periwinkle isn’t the only problematic flora, though — homeowners nationwide often add invasive species to their gardens, which may harm local wildlife.
A much friendlier approach to landscaping is using native plants. These species have adapted to your climate, region and local species, occurring naturally without having been introduced by people. Homeowners will find native plants require little upkeep, as their root systems do well under natural soil and rain conditions.
The National Wildlife Federation enables you to enter your zip code to discover the best native plants for your area. Those striving to create a Certified Wildlife Habitat should aim to have their yard consist of 50% to 70% native plant species to support wildlife.
2. Install a Pond
Backyard wildlife must drink and bathe, so why not add a pond? They’re essential food sources and nesting sites for various species, including insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and butterflies.
Installing a pond requires strategic planning, including deciding whether to add a pump for water quality, or movement using fountains and waterfalls. Adding a muddy patch for butterflies to “mud-puddle” is another way to ensure they receive the most essential nutrients. Of course, pouring a bucket of water from a local water source into your pond will introduce millions of organisms to help it thrive.
3. Add Bird-Deterring Decals
Did you know nearly 1 billion birds die in the United States annually after flying into windows, buildings and other structures? Collisions and fatalities among birds happen for several reasons, such as poor eyesight, confusion from artificial light, high reflections, and a structure’s location and position.
Developments in window glass panes have sought to correct this using exterior etchings and ultraviolet coatings. You can also apply sun catchers, stickers and decals to your windows to deter birds from crashing into them.
Place decals close together on the outside of the window. Covering as much of the glass with them as possible is essential — otherwise, birds may think they can fly between the narrow spaces.
4. Avoid Lawn and Garden Chemicals
Avoid using synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides in your lawn and garden. These chemicals can pose significant harm to small critters and insects alike, significantly impacting pollinators.
A recent study found synthetic fertilizers altered the electromagnetic field around flowers for up to 25 minutes, disorienting bees and altering their abilities to forage and pollinate. Declines in pollinator populations pose a serious risk to food production and the nation’s ability to avert widespread hunger. Using homemade, natural fertilizers and pesticides or purchasing organic materials like compost, manure, and grass clippings is much more humane.
5. Create a Pollinator Habitat
As you uncover safer ways of mitigating infestations and promoting plant growth, consider building a pollinator habitat. Healthy pollinators require food, water, shelter and nesting grounds to survive.
Select native flowering plants these creatures love — for instance, honey bees are greatly attracted to the large blooms on North Carolina’s Southern magnolia trees. Those living in Wyoming might plant prairie spiderwort to attract butterflies.
It would be best to plant much of the flora closely together to shelter pollinator species from predators and use them as host plants. Certain species lay eggs on trees, bushes, fallen branches and logs, and in dead tree grooves. Hummingbirds prefer nesting in dense shrubbery in particular.
6. Convert Part of Your Lawn
A frequently-cited 2005 study says the U.S. has converted 163,800 square kilometers of natural area to turf grasses — over 40 million acres. Now, some areas are reversing the damage by restoring lawns to meadows.
A Pennsylvania lawn conversion program hopes to plant 10,000 acres of upland forest and meadows by 2025. The benefits include improved water absorption, less stormwater runoff, renewed habitat for local wildlife and less maintenance.
Designate a part of your property’s lawn to convert, then select various grass alternatives. For example, groundcover plants do not require mowing and have deep root systems to aerate soil. Likewise, flowery perennials add color and texture to your backyard space.
Some home and landowners have opted to let native grasses grow wild, avoiding mowing altogether. If you decide to do this, just be sure to look for and eradicate invasive weeds.
7. Build a Wildlife-Friendly Pool
Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, frogs and other small animals may find themselves in precarious situations if they fall into an in-ground pool. Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent tragic drownings, including the following:
- Keep your pool covered when you’re not using it.
- Install knotted nylon netting along the pool’s edge so small animals can climb out.
- Design slanting edges with shallow areas for animals to escape when building a pool.
- Add a fence around the perimeter of the pool.
- Construct an above-ground pool instead.
If a small animal does fall in, scoop them out with the skimmer. Larger animals may require a makeshift ramp to get out, but never handle a wild animal yourself — you might risk getting bitten, endangering yourself and the creature.
8. Keep Pets Indoors
Pet owners face several restrictions when venturing into natural areas. For example, dogs are allowed on only two trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, while Shenandoah National Park restricts pets along 20 miles. This is to protect wildlife and prevent habitat destruction and disease.
At home, cats pose a more serious threat to local fauna. Studies show they kill 1.3 to 4 billion birds and 6.3 to 22.3 billion mammals every year in the U.S.
Keep your cats inside your home or build them a catio — a patio enclosure for outdoor experiences without the freedom to hunt in your backyard. These keep local fauna safe as much as they do your pet.
9. Clean Your Yard
Maintaining a clean yard is one of the easiest and most effective ways to make your home more human for fauna. Store your lawn mower, leaf blower, sharp power tools and grill in the shed until you need them. Likewise, avoid using robotic mowers, which may harm hedgehogs and rabbits.
If you use your backyard for entertaining, always ensure you and your guests clean up afterward. Single-use dishware, utensils and packaging may leech into the natural environment and cause harm to animals. Critters can roam freely and safely if your property is clear of potentially hazardous items.
Creating a Healthier Home for All Species
You already do everything possible to keep you and your household safe, so why not make your property fauna-friendly, too? Transforming your home and yard with wildlife in mind is one of the most humane ways to give back to all living things.