Before you begin managing wildlife on your property, there are three questions you need to consider.
Careful consideration of these questions will prepare you to begin managing your property yourself or work with a wildlife professional.
The principles and concepts of managing for wildlife in your yard are really the same as large parcels of land – all wildlife need food, water, cover, and space in the proper amounts and arrangement. The major difference is that you have to design your practices so they work with the function and beauty of your yard.
Once you have an understanding of basic landscape design, the next step is to design your landscape for wildlife habitat. Quality habitat is of vital importance to wildlife. Habitat includes proper food, cover, and water in sufficient quantities to meet a species’ basic needs. Does your yard provide the three basics for wildlife?
Food – There are a variety of bird, mammal, amphibian, reptile, and insect species that may want to call your backyard home. While each species has specific food requirements, providing an abundance of each major food category will appeal to the broadest array of wildlife species.
Cover – Every wildlife species visiting your yard has specific cover requirements. Providing an abundance of common cover categories will appeal to the broadest array of wildlife species.
Water – All wildlife needs some sources of water near the place they call home. If a permanent water supply such as a stream or pond is not present near your yard, the addition of a backyard pond or birdbath can provide this needed feature to your landscape. Many species get their daily water requirements from morning dew or food that they eat. However, having a permanent water sources is an effective attractant, especially when available water is scarce. Birdbaths and water misters are readily used by birds and butterflies. Backyard ponds or water gardens provide habitat for aquatic and semiaquatic animals and are attractive backyard landscape features. Having gradual slopes and planting vegetation within and adjacent to the pond with enhance its value to wildlife.
Arrangement of these requirements also important. Planning for backyard wildlife habitat is challenging in that you need to supply the basic requirements for the species you wish to attract, and it must conform and integrate with your landscape design.
Butterflies are beautiful additions to any backyard. Butterflies are insects with a four-stage development: egg – larva – pupa – adult. There are about 20,000 species worldwide and over 700 in North America. Some examples of the types of butterflies include swallowtails, fritillaries, skippers, and sulphurs.
Hummingbirds are a popular attraction in any backyard. The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only species of hummingbird that nests in the Hoosier state. These colorful visitors are migratory and arrive from their wintering grounds around mid-April. Ruby-throated hummingbirds remain throughout the summer and can begin fall migration as early as late-July. Migrating ruby-throated hummingbirds can be observed in Indiana throughout the fall. It is possible to observe migrating hummingbirds at your feeder from late-July through October and occasionally later. In fact, during late autumn, rufous hummingbirds can be observed at feeders in Indiana. Some believe it is only a matter of time that other western species such as the black-chinned hummingbird are found in the state.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds have a few simple habitat requirements that can be easily met in most neighborhoods and backyard habitats.
Suitable cover is often one of the most limited habitat elements in backyard habitats. Over 50 wildlife species in the Midwest use cavities in live trees (den trees) or dead, standing trees (called snags) for nesting and denning cover. Unfortunately, yard management practiced by many of us does not encourage either of these critical habitat features needed by cavity nesting wildlife. New developments often lack an abundance of trees. Even when planted, many of the tree species selected for landscaping such as Bradford pear, flowering crabapple, or ash, do not favor development of natural cavities. Native hardwoods such as oak, sycamore, and beech trees readily form natural cavities, but may take many years to do so. While nest boxes are not a replacement for these species or wildlife habitat management, they are a great way to supplement natural cavities, make your backyard more attractive to cavity nesting species, and complement your landscape design at the same time.
Whether you purchase nest boxes or build them yourself, a properly maintained nest box can last for years. You can maximize their value by installing them at the proper heights and in the proper locations. They should be located near food, water, and other cover needed by your desired species. There are a few basic “rules of thumb” that will help you select and install nesting structures most beneficial for the wildlife species you wish to attract in your backyard.
Cost-share and technical assistance programs often make wildlife management practices affordable. In many cases, dedicating marginal farmland to wildlife management practices can actually improve the per acre net return.
“What kinds of assistance are available to me, and from whom?”
“Is there money available to help me?”
“Where do I go to get help with my wildlife resource problems?”
These are questions frequently asked by Indiana landowners. The answer to these questions can be quite complicated because programs that assist landowners are implemented by a number of public and private organizations. The best place to start for answers to your questions is with your county Cooperative Extension Service Educator. Your county Educator will assist you in contacting the appropriate person and/or agency administering the assistance programs best suited to your needs. The address and phone number for your county’s Cooperative Extension Service Office can be found in the telephone directory under County Government Office, or they may be listed in the white pages under the name of your county.
NRCS, along with FSA, provides leadership for Farm Bill programs. Contact your local USDA Service Center for more information. They will assist you with determining the eligibility of your land, the development of a conservation plan, and the application process. In addition, they can put you in touch with your District Forester or District Wildlife Biologist. They will provide assistance in developing more detailed management plans and in selecting cost-share and incentive programs that can make wildlife management on your property more attractive and affordable. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services also provides assistance through their Partners for Wildlife Program.
Wetland benefits and values include storm water storage, ground water recharge, nutrient recycling, sediment filtering, and wildlife habitat. Over 87percent of Indiana’s wetlands have been degraded or destroyed. Wetland restoration aims to restore drained or degraded wetlands to the point that soils, hydrology, vegetation, and biological habitats are returned to their natural condition or as close as possible. You should obtain the required local, state, and federal permits before beginning any wetland restoration project. Often, blocking drainage tile or installing a basic water control structure (wetland video) can restore a wetland. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) can provide technical and financial assistance at little or no cost to you for many wetland restoration projects. Also, contact your county NRCS office.
Wildlife and the forests in which they live are linked closely together. The abundance of most wildlife populations and associated forested lands have paralleled each other throughout history. Responsible forest management ensures a balance between wildlife populations and their forested habitats.
The species and arrangement you select depend upon your management goals. For example, some species of wildlife such as bobolink, northern harrier, or Henslow’s sparrow require large blocks of grassland. Other species, such as northern bobwhite quail, dickcissel, or American goldfinch do well in small blocks of grasslands. In many situations, these small blocks may be established adjacent to shrubs, trees, or other areas of cover. This will increase the amount of edge (transitional areas among two or more habitat types) near your grasslands, thereby benefiting species of wildlife that prefer edge habitat. A mixture of plant species and habitat types such as grassland, old-field/brushland, and forestland provide escape, nesting, and foraging cover for a wide variety of wildlife species. You should select plants that meet the basic requirements of the wildlife species you wish to attract.
A windbreak is a barrier that reduces or redirects the energy of the wind. A home or farmstead windbreak is a strip of vegetation, generally consisting of multiple rows of trees and shrubs, which shelters a residence from wind. Animals seek shelter from wind and weather just as people do. Windbreaks are a good source of cover for wildlife in agricultural areas.
Many wildlife species depend on an open source of water. In addition, the interface between land and aquatic habitats are often focal points of wildlife use. The proper management of farm ponds can enhance wildlife habitat on your property and also increase wildlife viewing opportunities.
The establishment and maintenance of food plots can be a component of any wildlife management plan. When used in conjunction with other habitat management techniques, food plots are useful for attracting wildlife.
Trees are an important component to any wildlife habitat. They provide cover, nest sites, and can be an important food source for many wildlife species. A tree planting containing many species provides a diversity of food and structure for wildlife. Select tree species that provide food and/or cover for for wildlife. For example, many native tree species adapted to soil conditions along streams are excellent wildlife trees. A tree planting containing many species provides a diversity of food and structure.
Depending on your goals, the spacing of trees in plantings will vary. Wildlife plantings are usually spaced at 400 to 500 trees per acre; however, if you are planting in a bottomland, or you are interested in managing your tree planting for timber, you may have to plant as many as 900 trees per acre. The deadline for ordering trees from the state nursery is in October of each year and seedlings are available the following March. Your District Forester or Consulting Forester can assist you with tree planting and maintenance. A consulting forester may be needed to plant large areas requiring machine planting.
Shrubs provide escape cover, nest sites for many songbirds, and are an important food resource throughout the year. Select shrub species suited to your soil type that also provide food and nesting habitat for wildlife. The state nursery provides a selection of shrubs for this purpose. Placing one row of shrubs close to the stream helps stabilize the stream bank while providing a setback for the first row of trees. This is a concern to landowners along watercourses with heavy scour erosion. In these situations, trees that are set back from the stream edge are less likely to fall into the stream in later years; however, they are still close enough to provide shade to the stream. The minimum spacing for planting shrubs in 6′ by 6′. Design plantings with irregular edges when possible. Before purchasing your seedlings, contact your county NRCS office or drainage board for any restrictions on tree or shrub plantings near regulated drains.
Grasses are frequently categorized into two groups – cool season and warm season grasses. Cool season grasses, such as fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and bromegrass, set seed in late-spring and early-summer. Warm season grasses, often called native prairie grasses, set seed in late-summer and early-fall. Therefore, warm season grasses, such as big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian grass, sideoats grama, and switchgrass, are most vigorous during the hot summer months when cool season grasses have already reached maturity.
While they provide excellent cover, warm season grasses provide little food for wildlife. However, adding native forbs (non-woody plants that are not grasses or sedges) will enhance the food value of any planting. Often these forbs have showy flowers that bloom throughout the spring, summer, or fall.
Habitat maintenance is just as important as establishing good wildlife habitat, yet it is frequently overlooked. Would you plant a new lawn and not mow, water, or fertilize it? The same is true for other habitats. Without proper maintenance, plantings may lose their vigor, become overrun by invasive species, or convert to a less desirable stage of development.
The timing and methods you select depends upon the long-term management objectives for your property. However, some common maintenance provisions are briefly described below. In general, all maintenance is done on a rotational basis. This promotes a diversity of habitat types and provides food and cover during the winter and early spring.
Occasionally, wildlife management practices attract unwanted species, leading to problems for landowners. For example, increased deer populations can inhibit the growth of food plots or tree and shrub plantings, or nuisance Canada geese can damage plantings for wildlife, winter wheat, or landscaping around the home.
Properly planned management can still encourage wanted wildlife species while minimizing nuisance wildlife problems. Strategies vary on a case-by-case basis. However, successful plans include taking steps to prevent damage before the damage occurs, monitoring for signs of new damage, and minimizing further damage through a combination of approved techniques. You will rarely be able to eliminate nuisance wildlife, and minimizing nuisance wildlife is an ongoing process.
If you have a nuisance wildlife problem, you will find that many of the nuisance animals are regulated and protected by federal, state, and/or local regulations.
Bovine tuberculosis (bovine Tb) is an on-going issue in Indiana’s wild white-tailed deer herd. Bovine Tb was first discovered in wild deer in Indiana in August 2016 near a bovine Tb positive cattle farm in Franklin County. Since August, Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Board of Animal Health have been monitoring and managing the bovine Tb situation. As of Dec. 7th, 2016 no hunter-harvested deer have tested positive for bovine Tb. Visit Bovine Tb to find more information regarding bovine Tb and answers to frequently asked questions.