This quick guide suggests ways to attract wildlife we enjoy sharing space with, as well as ideas to discourage those who aren’t invited guests.
- by Christian Stephenson
Backyards provide habitat for many different species of birds. The use of plants in a variety of heights and edges in the home landscape will favor the presence of a range of bird species. A combination of large shrubs, small shrubs and ground covers provides layers that will be favored by different bird species.
In addition, many bird species prefer perches facing open areas to allow them to forage with a nearby site for protection. This layered approach to landscape design also provides a natural look that is easy to maintain. Plants in the home landscape provide not only shelter for birds but also a major source of food.
Landscape plants favorable to birds include large trees such as black gum and southern magnolia; small trees such as holly and crab apple; shrubs such as American beautyberry and huckleberry, and perennial plants such as bee balm and salvia.
Hummingbirds are attractive and interesting visitors to Mississippi gardens. While several species of hummingbirds can be found in Mississippi, the only species that breeds in the east
ern United States is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
Providing feeders for hummingbirds is the easiest way to attract them to your garden. Many types of feeders are available, but the best are those that are easiest to clean. Hummingbird nectar can be made by mixing one part refined sugar to four parts water and heating to fully dissolve the granules. Do not add food coloring to the nectar mixture, and do not use honey. Feeders should be cleaned and the nectar changed regularly, particularly in hot weather. Male hummingbirds are territorial, so placing feeders in several areas around the garden will provide for more hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds also feed on small insects and spiders, so avoid the use of insecticides in the garden when possible. Flowers favored by hummingbirds include annuals such as begonias, petunias and zinnias, perennials such as bee balm, cardinal flower and lantana, and vines such as coral honeysuckle and trumpet vine. Azalea, red buckeye and butterfly bush are among the shrubs favored by hummingbirds.
Water sources for hummingbirds are also important. Add small rocks to existing birdbaths to provide space for hummingbirds. The addition of a mister is also a good source of water.
Butterflies add beauty to our home landscapes and are important pollinators for many of our treasured plants. Here in Mississippi, we are blessed with the presence of many species of butterflies.
Monarch caterpillars thrive on native milkweed plants, which grow easily in our gardens. The adult butterflies feed on flowers including lilac, red clover, liatris, as well as milkweed blooms. Plantings of native milkweed are an important source of food for the monarchs as they migrate through Mississippi.
Adult giant swallowtails are large butterflies, with a wingspan of up to 7 inches. The forewings of the butterfly are black with a diagonal bar of yellow. Adults feed on nectar of many plants including azaleas, bougainvillea, Japanese honeysuckle, and swamp milkweed. Caterpillars of the giant swallowtail feed on citrus leaves but are rarely damaging.
The eastern tiger swallowtail is only slightly smaller on average than the giant swallowtail. Adults are yellow with four black bands on the front wings. Adults feed on a wide variety of flowers and will sip water and minerals from mud. Sweet bay, tulip tree, and black cherry are common plant hosts of tiger swallowtail caterpillars.
The spicebush swallowtail is common in gardens throughout the eastern and midwestern United States. The upper surface of the forewings, which have an average spread of just over 4 inches, is black with a narrow row of light yellowish spots. As with the tiger swallowtail, adults can often be seen sipping on water and minerals from wet soil. Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars feed on plants such as red bay, spicebush and sassafras.
Although they are appreciated by wildlife enthusiasts, deer can be a major nuisance for homeowners. Deer feed on a wide variety of plants, many of which are food or ornamental plants grown in gardens. There are a number of ways to discourage deer and prevent them from damaging the home landscape. The most effective long-term solution is fencing. Though deer are able to jump fences as tall as ten feet, they generally prefer not to, and eight-foot tall fences are usually sufficient.
While fences are effective, an eight-foot fence surrounding the property is not always practical. A number of repellants are available that are designed to repel deer either by scent or by having a bad taste. Though most repellants sold are effective in the short term, they must be reapplied regularly. To remain effective, repellants will need to be applied to target plants every three or four weeks. In addition, deer will become accustomed to repellants, and so it is necessary to rotate through different products.
Though deer will eat almost anything when they are hungry, they do show a preference for some plants and a distaste for others. Plants such as pears, cedar and hydrangeas are particularly susceptible to deer feeding. The selection of plants that are less favored by deer can significantly reduce problems with damage to the landscape. Trees such as American holly and honey locust, as well as shrubs such as boxwood, forsythia, and butterfly bush, are rarely damaged by deer feeding. Perennials such as coreopsis, daffodil, mint and bee balm, as well as annual flowers such as snapdragons, begonias, and marigolds are also resistant to damage by deer.
In urban environments, raccoons may become a nuisance by nesting under sheds or porches, in drainage culverts, or in attics. They will also forage around homes eating food left out for pets.
The best means to prevent problems with raccoons and other animals nesting in chimneys and attics is exclusion. Access to chimneys can be prevented by covering the opening with a heavy metal screen or sheet metal cap. Accesses to attics can also be screened, and it is also useful to remove access routes the raccoons may use to get to the roof such as overhanging branches. Garbage cans should either be kept in a garage or shed or the lids secured with strong straps.
While raccoons can be completely unperturbed by being approached by people, it is important to remember that they may become aggressive and may carry several human diseases including rabies. Despite the temptation to do so, homeowners should never feed raccoons. Doing so will increase their population around the home and potentially lead to bites, or worse.
Armadillos become a nuisance in home landscapes by digging up flowerbeds and areas of the lawn as they forage for food. Armadillos feed on a range of small insects and other invertebrates. The most effective way to manage armadillos is to remove the food source they are seeking, such as a lawn insecticide that targets insects like white grubs. Removal of their food source will encourage armadillos to seek out other foraging grounds, although it may not prevent the occasional investigation of your lawn.
Whether you want to attract wildlife to your landscape or exclude nuisance animals – or both – it is always important to keep safety in mind. Never attempt to touch or handle any unfamiliar animal.
Also, keep in mind that while some animals may present an occasional nuisance, they are an important part of our ecosystem, and every effort should be made to avoid harm to the animals while preventing damage to our landscapes. If you are having difficulty managing wildlife in your home landscape or would like assistance in attracting beneficial wildlife, please contact your county MSU Extension, Hancock County office for assistance.