Tips on How to be a Backyard Conservationist

Way back in January, I made an Instagram post about the topic of being a backyard conservationist. It was probably my least favorite post because I ended up having to delete half of it and really cutting down on all the awesome tips for making your local environment better because the post would have been way too wordy and just not fun enough to read if you wanted to learn about it.

But a blog is different.

I’m not limited to only having a visual appeal at the top of a post. I can give you all direct links to the places I found, and cite sources much easier than I would be able to on Instagram or Facebook.

So without further delay, here are some ways you can be a backyard conservationist (the extended cut).

Happy child holding house in hands against spring green background.

1. Get to Know Your Area

Before you can start to help and really witness your local ecosystem, you have to find out what ecosystem you’re in. If you live in a place that doesn’t get hummingbirds at all, it probably wouldn’t be the best idea to buy a hummingbird feeder.

This can be really broad by asking “what state/province am I in?” and “what is the climate/weather (not the same thing!) like here?” By asking this or even googling, “Wildlife in (city/county)”, will give you an idea of what lives there.

If you want an excuse to leave your house, stop in at a local library and find the Field Guides section and just flip through the book that appeals to you most and applies to your area. There are field guides for wildflowers, insects, arachnids, fungi, birds, mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians and even rocks if that’s your fancy. If you happen to be more of a busy body and prefer to do a bit of learning from the comforts of home, there are a plethora of Field guide apps, and websites you can access. (Honestly, I wanted to list a few here. But after only 3 minutes of looking, I realized that it would be easier to just say type “Field Guide” into your app store search bar than list the many different options here.)

2. Make Your Space Welcoming

Once you know what lives in your neck of the woods, it’s time to make your yard/ window/ business a place that they want to be. You don’t have to have a yard to attract and help wildlife. If you live in an apartment with a window, try putting up a windowsill planter or potted plants on your balcony so native pollinators can still use it. Even a small bird feeder can bring quite a bit of wildlife to your area.

Plants

One of the easiest and most versatile options for making an area inviting to wildlife is finding a place to put native plants. It could be in an outdoor pot, garden area, unused corner of the yard or those old jeans from before you started your diet.

With so many ornamental plants making their way out of gardens and into the ecosystems that surround them, it’s hard to really know what species are native and which ones aren’t. Trust me, when I set out to put a native garden in my yard, it included a hours of visiting home improvement stores, looking at a pretty plant, researching it to find out if it’s native to the area or possibly invasive, and being either overjoyed at the success or annoyed that the plant I wanted to buy wouldn’t work for one reason or another. It gets pretty frustrating and becomes quite a time commitment in areas that you might expect to spend the least amount of time in. I mean, all I wanted was a pollinator friendly garden that would be colorful all season.

Luckily, there’s a site that already has a good chunk of that work done for you!

Here’s the US Southern Plains region chart from Xerces.org

The Xerces Society has an entire page dedicated just to what native flowering plants to have that will be beneficial to the pollinators that live in your area! (Click Here) They even have a page that gives locations of home and garden shops in the United States that specialize in native plants and seeds.

If I had known about these resources, I definitely would have been able to get more done than I did last summer in the garden. Most of these plants double in attracting seed-eating birds after they die. Which can cause your natives to spread and create a natural system around your area just from bird droppings!

Anther great reason to plant native is that because native plants are adapted to the local climate, they’ll require much less care in the line of fertilizers, watering and even pesticides.

Living Space

If you want to have residents in your area, they are going to need somewhere to feel safe and possibly raise their young. This is where a little bit of research will be necessary. You don’t want to spend time, money and energy in making something that won’t be used. I’ll put links to places that have directions for directions or design possibilities wherever possible.

Some options are as simple as making a brush pile out of trimmed/ fallen branches (which makes space for rabbits, chipmunks, amphibians, turtles and many birds) or drilling tons of small holes in a piece of wood for native bee species.

If you’re looking for something a bit more intensive, you could build or buy a home for your desired animals. Bird houses are what most people think of so let’s talk about this first.

If a Birdhouse has a perch outside of the whole, find a way to remove it or buy a different birdhouse. Any bird that uses a Birdhouse will have the ability to cling to the wood. A perch invites predators and nest parasites.

Birdhouses are a great way to get the entire family interested in the world outside. Being able to see birds going in and out of birdhouses you all make brings quite a bit of interest in watching the drama of life unfold for the tenants. If you don’t know where to start with making or buying your first birdhouse, NestWatch is a great resource that gives you any bit of information you might want about dimensions, placement and timing of when to put the box up.

How could you not give a home to that face?!?

Bat houses are another great way to help species that may be struggling. Bats around the world are facing issues with disease, habitat loss and an undeserved bad press. They make great neighbors for their work as pollinators or insect control. For more information on the construction and management of bat houses, check out Bat Conservation International.

Food and Water

Not every animal will feel comfortable taking up residence next to people, and that’s okay. The next best thing is to make them regulars at feeders and watering holes.

For feeders, you’ll have to do a bit of research into how, what and where the animals eat. For example, Doves are willing to feed on the ground and prefer flat surfaces in the open while Chickadees like feeders that are vertical so they can cling to them and fly to a nearby bush or tree if scared. Do a bit of research into what type of feeder you should buy and what type of food works best for the life you plan to attract.

Water is a bit simpler. many animals are attracted to any thing shallow enough for them to stand in and deep enough to get a drink/clean themselves in. One thing that always draws them in is the sound or sight of moving water. This can be accomplished by putting a small, low powered water pump in the basin.

Safety

Above all else, the animals need to know that they are safe where they choose to live, eat and drink. supplying hiding places like brush piles, bushes, dive holes, perches and trees to escape predators is a great way to ensure that the life you intend to attract has the possibility to stay a while because they feel safe.

I know this will rub a few people the wrong way but it must be said.

  • Feral cats are not native.
  • Feral cats are not beneficial to the local ecosystem.
  • Feral cats do not need to be fed.

Cats cause a lot of problems and cause a lot of deaths of small wildlife and even the extinctions of a few. The best thing you can do if you own a cat is to keep it inside whenever possible and not to attract feral cats to your yard. If you’re spending all this time and energy to make a space for nature, the fruits of your labor will be hard to spot if the animals you would attract know that there’s something that frequents the area that’s very dangerous to them.

3. Enjoy your space!

Now you have this amazing space setup to harbor life. What do you do now? Sit back, brew some Chai tea, and just look outside and watch the world come to life!

Also, a recent article by Phys.org looks into the awesome ways that people who feed birds are really making a difference in bird conservation!

Take your new-found joy to new heights by using your yard to help scientists to further their research! One app, iNaturalist allows you to directly help scientists, developers, and community members from around the world notice population trends with species of plants, animals and fungi you see. With this tool, natural science studies are really built up by real world observations taken by the public.

I hope you really do enjoy your little slice of nature. If you want, share a picture of any cool wildlife you see or awesome plants! I’d love to see what you wonderful people come up with!

Tell me what you think about this post! I’d really love to hear a bit of feedback!

See you next time,

Sean.

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