Most people enjoy seeing birds and other wildlife around their homes, property, in parks, or other natural areas. Attracting and maintaining wildlife is a matter of supplying the “habitat” that these animals need to survive and reproduce. There are four essential elements for habitat: food, water, cover, and space.

Providing a stable and reliable food source for animals is a key ingredient for habitat, as all things need to eat. The diet of animals may consist of meat (carnivores,) plants (herbivores,) or a combination of the two (omnivores.) Some animals have a very diverse diet, such as a raccoon or bear, while others may be very selective, like the hummingbird. Providing the food that these animals need to nourish themselves is an important consideration for developing good habitat. For example, if you want to attract hummingbirds, you will need to supply nectar-producing plants or feeders.

Water is equally important as food since all animals require it. Some animals will obtain water from the plants they eat, or by metabolizing fats (mainly desert animals.) Most animals, though, need to drink water, so having a stable water supply is important.

Brush piles provides cover and protection

Credit: frederick.forestryboard.org - David Barrow

Cover is the shelter animals need to escape the elements and predators. This shelter must protect the animal in both the growing season and when leaves drop during the winter. Adequate winter cover is often the local missing element in retaining resident wildlife on a site. Cover must also be sizeable enough to protect animals from predators. Some habitats may fool animals into believing they are safe, when in fact, that is not the case, due to lack of overhead cover too narrow to deter predators from finding prey, or no escape routes. Inadequate cover is often known as “predator traps.” A rabbit or quail hunkering down in a 15 foot wide hedge row might be easy prey for a hungry coyote, whereas the same animal resting in a 50 foot wide hedge row might stand a fighting chance of not becoming a meal to a marauding coyote. Animals may have very specific shelter requirements, such as cavity nesters that need a hollow tree or nesting structure. Others can be adaptable, thriving in a multitude of cover types.

The fourth habitat element necessary is adequate space. Space may be defined as the area an animal requires to fulfill all of its other habitat needs, avoid competition, find a mate, and feel comfortable. When there are too many animals in a given area, such as an oversized deer herd in a small woodlot, the deer may denude the woods in search of food, and they are said to exceed the carrying capacity of the land. In this case, the space necessary to support the deer herd is inadequate. Some animals may need a lot of space to satisfy their requirements, such as a large bear, while a mouse lives most of its life in a relatively small area. A term given to the amount of space an animal requires to satisfy all of its needs is “home range.” An animal like a grizzly bear may have a home range of a hundred miles, while a vole’s home range may be an acre or less. The large home range requirement is one of the reasons large carnivores, like grizzly bears or tigers, are only found in very remote areas. There are some local wildlife populations, forest interior dwellers, that require a large area of unbroken forest to satisfy their needs. Likewise, there are some animals that require open fields or brushy areas for habitat, and would not do well in a deep forest environment. Knowing a little bit about an animals space requirements is important in determining where they are likely to be found. Keeping in mind these various essential elements of food, water, cover, and space will help develop desirable habitats for the animals whose home range would overlap with your property.

Article by FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 7/29/2018