Get wild in your backyard

White-tailed deer at Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Newington, NH. Credit: Greg Thompson/USFWS
I'm Bethany Holbrook, and I work at our New York Field Office. You'll be hearing from me every week! Stay tuned for tales from the great state of New York. USFWS photo with Bethany holding a bog turtle

I’m Bethany Holbrook, and I work at our New York Field Office. You’ll hear from me every week! Stay tuned for tales from the great state of New York.

Are you someone who enjoys a glimpse of wildlife running in nearby woods and pastures, or even your own backyard?

If so, there are ways you can improve habitat for species such as deer, other small mammals, young forest birds, amphibians and even plants.

Our agency partners with private landowners to make changes that restore important fish and wildlife habitat through a cost-share program called Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. One landowner took our program to the next level and used the knowledge he gained to make even more habitat changes on his own.

Female Northern harrier flying over Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in New York's Finger Lakes Region. Credit: Doug Racine/USFWS

Female Northern harrier flying over Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in New York’s Finger Lakes Region. Credit: Doug Racine/USFWS

The result? A landscape that boasts new species, a higher volume of wildlife, and a new appreciation for and greater attraction to his land. I visited his 325-acre site to see these changes and their benefits for wildlife just a few years after construction.

Here’s what he recommends if you, too, are interested in making your property more suitable for wildlife: “Study the landscape to learn how animals will use it and to determine what is best.”

Let it grow. The landowner knew that deer prefer covered corridors that they can travel through, as opposed to open areas. Deer were creating their own trails between the woodlot and the open field, so he allowed a 60-foot-wide corridor of natural vegetation through the field to go un-mowed.

”There is no doubt that deer are spending more time in the field as these areas develop,” he says. “They love hiding in the tall growth, slipping out to feed on all the clover and taking a break in the wet areas in darker woods.”

Make some space. The landowner turned to us and the Ruffed Grouse Society for help with an aspen clonal cut in January. This involves cutting older aspen trees in a colony of trees to allow new aspen trees to grow, along with other young forest plants that will attract birds like the American woodcock and grouse.

Six months later, tall grasses fill the area, and aspen trees have popped up like tall twigs in the ground. To make the new habitat even more attractive, the landowner stacked piles of wood and brush to create bird nesting habitat.

Aspen regeneration cut in Canastota, N.Y., after four months of growth. The aspen responded particularly well because the area is open and receives a lot of sunlight. Credit: Andy Weik, Ruffed Grouse Society

Aspen regeneration cut in Canastota, N.Y., after four months of growth. The aspen responded particularly well because the area is open and receives a lot of sunlight. Credit: Andy Weik, Ruffed Grouse Society

Add a bit of water. We also added six vernal pools, which are small shallow ponds that fill up during the wet season and usually dry out periodically throughout the year. Following construction, the landowner said he noticed frogs and salamanders in the pools, and occasionally ducks in the pools not covered by trees.

The landowner was genuinely amazed with the transformation of his land. He was noticing calls, sounds and nests of different birds, and markings of animals traveling through the woods.

Your conservation strategy can be as simple as purchasing wood duck boxes and placing them on trees, or as difficult as constructing your own vernal pool. By doing a little research and consulting with wildlife agencies, you too can transform your property into a landscape that provides suitable habitat to a range of species.

Here are some simple alterations you can make:

  • Grow plants/crops/trees that you know will attract a certain species. For example, turkeys like acorns, beechnuts, and hickory nuts, so it would be wise to plant oak, beech or hickory trees.
  • Cut down trees that compete with desirable trees. The desirable trees will grow better if they don’t have to compete with other trees for resources.
  • Plant hemlock trees. Deer will bed under the branches.
  • Plant a hedgerow of native berries. You will attract wildlife and gain privacy!
  • Add large sunning rocks, logs, etc. to the edge of a pond or vernal pool.
  • Collect twigs and branches. Make a large pile in the woods for nesting and protection.
  • Cut down trees to create openings in the forest. Some species prefer grasses and plants that thrive in sunlight, providing feeding and nesting opportunities. Forest opening also attract insects for wildlife to eat.

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