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Attracting Wildlife to Your Garden

/ April 22, 2020

If you can’t go to them, bring them to you!

Gardens offer a retreat from the hectic world, right outside your back door. They provide an outlet for artistic expression and connect us to natural beauty that can be enjoyed year-round.

Creating a backyard retreat with some or all of the elements listed below will greatly increase the diversity of wildlife in your backyard.

Provide Shelter

Creating a garden that behaves like a native plant community has the potential to reduce maintenance and provide a healthy habitat that supports wildlife. A shady woodland garden with trees, shrubs, and a vegetated ground layer provides shelter for numerous wildlife. Opossums, for instance, prefer wooded areas to feed and raise their young. A study completed in New York determined that in a single season, one opossum can kill and eat 5,000 ticks. That makes them one marvelous marsupial. The forest habitat pictured above in the Museum Park is being managed for invasive species and replanted with plants native to the Piedmont region of North Carolina.

Photo: Chantal Tauton

Provide Nesting Habitat

You can also provide nesting habitat by adding a bluebird house to your backyard. Bluebirds are veracious insectivores. The best location for their house is along a tree line adjacent to an open area. The photograph above was captured by a park ranger in the Museum Park. Early morning along the upper meadow trail is the best time to watch bluebirds perch on tall blades of grass and swoop to catch a grasshopper midair.

Joe Pye Weed. Grows between 6 to 10 feet tall and can be used to create layers in a garden. Their clusters of pink blooms attract bees and butterflies all summer long.

Provide Food

Nearly all birds in North Carolina rely on insects to feed their young. Insects transfer energy from plants to other animals that do not eat plants directly.

I spotted this Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar on a Shumard Oak in the Museum Park. Oak trees support more butterflies and moths than nearly any other native plant. Some oaks can foster 557 different species of butterflies and moths. This particular caterpillar will not inflict serious harm to this Park tree. I left him to provide nourishment to the birds, or better yet complete his metamorphosis into a beautiful moth.

Bottom line: If you want to attract birds to your yard, you must provide them their primary food source—insects.

A Painted Lady butterfly on Prairie Blazing Star in the formal wave gardens in the Museum Park
Coral Honeysuckle is an attractive addition to any garden and provides nectar for hummingbirds and bumblebees.
Snowberry Clearwing and a skipper feeding on Garden Phlox in the Museum Park. This showy, versatile plant is also favored by hummingbirds.

Provide Water

All wildlife need water to survive. Water features such as rain gardens and ponds are a great way to attract birds like the great blue heron seen below fishing at the stormwater pond in the Museum Park. The addition of aquatic plants to a water feature is essential to attract dragonflies to your garden. One dragonfly can catch between 30 and 100 mosquitoes in a single day.

Photo: Chantal Tauton
Dragonfly perching on pickerelweed at the Pond in the Museum Park
Rachel Woods
Rachel Woods is director of Museum Park operations at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

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