Creating an Outdoor Home for Wildlife
Instead of watching birds, butterflies, and bees flit into the garden, gorge on the nectar buffet, and leave, create an environment that makes them want to stick around.
Different birds have different housing requirements. To attract bluebirds, choose a house that provides at least 16 square inches of floor space with a one-and-a-half-inch entrance hole; hang it five feet off the ground. You’ll need a larger house to convince birds such as robins, barn swallows, and owls to take up residence. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great guide to picking the right birdhouse on its website at nestwatch.org.
Bats provide outstanding insect control, munching on mosquitos and other garden pests during their evening flights; several species are also important pollinators. A bat box provides a place for bats to roost. Mount it to a solid structure (a house or shed, for example) at least 12 feet above the ground. Choose a spot that receives at least six hours of sun exposure. “It can take a while for bats to find them,” warns Angel Hjarding, the director of pollinator and wildlife habitat programs for the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. When bats take up residence, mosquitos disappear.
You might consider kissing the toad that moves into your backyard, because its appetite for insects can help keep the garden pest-free. One adult toad can consume up to 10,000 insects during the summer. To attract tenants, place a toad abode—a small, often clay, “house” with four walls and a roof—in a damp, shady spot; it should sit on soil or mulch, so toads can dig down a little to create a bed. You can buy a toad abode (check Etsy) or use instructions on Pinterest to make a DIY version from a clay pot.
Hjarding calls these intricate dwellings “pieces of art in the garden,” that provide nesting spots for solitary bees such as mason bees and leafcutter bees. But be careful: Insect hotels can be breeding grounds for pests and diseases. To prevent problems, look for models made without bamboo and plastic, which can be suffocating; avoid shallow tubes that lack adequate nesting space; and hang the structure under a two-inch (or greater) overhang. For a simple DIY version, Hjarding suggests drilling different-sized holes in a felled log; it gives carpenter bees an alternative to nesting in the wood on your deck or house.