Broadly speaking, gardeners tend to be wildlife lovers too. When I worked in garden centers, I regularly had conversations with clients who simultaneously wanted pointers on ridding their yard of one pest or another (without harming it) and attracting wildlife. Interestingly the key to both lies in understanding what these critters are looking for.
In his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”, Abraham Maslow laid out his now famous heirarchy of needs. While he was concerned with human psychology, the foundations of his hierarchy are pretty much universal. All creatures need to exist in a place where 1.) their physiological requirements are met; and 2.) there is a fairly likely assumption of safety from danger. If you are interested in inviting wildlife into your landscape, keep those two ideas in mind.
What are the physiological requirements? Those basic necessities of survival include: air, food, water and shelter. To attract wildlife, your surest impact will come by providing reliable and uncontaminated sources of food and water, and some sort of shelter. Hopefully the air is already good.
Before buying deer corn, bird food and salt blocks, begin with what’s growing in your landscape. Include habitat plants that will provide food and/or shelter inherently like evergreens and conifers, annuals and perennials. Find out what animals or birds live in your area, and plant what they tend to prefer. Do not use systemic insecticides, and minimize the use of herbicides and fungicides as these chemicals can build up over time and become toxic to your preferred wildlife. Once the critter traffic begins to build, consider adding feeding stations in strategic areas where you can view the animals without disturbing them. Keep feeding stations clean for the same reasons that you wash your dishes. Check this out. for backyard wildlife project ideas.
Adding a water feature to your landscape will really intensify the wildlife traffic. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, a birdbath will do. Keep water features clean to avoid unwanted algae and mosquitoes. The sound of moving water (a bubbler in the birdbath, or a waterfall) will attract birds and animals from a much greater distance, especially if you do not live near a body of water.
As for safety, domestic pets (or strays) are the main concern. Keep tabs on them or they can be a big reason for wildlife to remain at a distance. When you are attracting wildlife, you are attracting both predator and prey, so expect to see some wild activity on occasion. Providing shelter plants and locating bird houses and the like as recommended (proper height from the ground, proper type of mount, etc) will also increase the safety component for the more vulnerable ones.
As for Maslow’s other three layers in his hierarchy, I’m not sure I can say. Perhaps you can provide your wildlife a feeling of “love and belonging” but as for “self esteem” and “self actualization,” I think they’re on their own. Happy gardening!
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