Creating a wildlife-friendly backyard, or even a balcony, is much easier than you think. Wildlife-friendly concepts can be applied to all types of garden, from huge plantations down to small high rise balconies, the two key elements are water and shelter everything else is a matter of personal preference.
When choosing what plants, it is important to consider the local growing conditions. What is the soil type? How wet or dry is the area? Is it in shade or full sun? A good idea is to talk to your neighbours especially those who have a green thumb. You will get first hand information on what to grow, where to grow it and how to grow it, and if you’re lucky you might even get a cutting. If your neighbours are just as much in the dark as you are try the local botanic gardens, they will know exactly what grows well and sometimes even have free plants for local residents.
Also consider what wildlife you want to attract to your yard. The following is a rough guide; prickly bushes will provide shelter for small birds, native grasses will provide food for tiny birds like finches, flowering natives provide food for butterfly species and native bird species (the ones with the specialised beaks), clumping plants provide ideal habitat for small frogs near a pond, lots of mulch will not only reduce mowing but also provide habitat for small lizards and insects.
A great addition to any backyard is a pond that will attract frogs and allow them to breed. This is a good way for children to watch and learn about nature, but be aware of local pool regulations regarding the size and location of your pond and keeping them clean can be an art in itself. If you just stick a bucket of water out in the garden you will find it attracts very few frogs but quite a lot of native mosquitoes, snails and slugs and after a while turns green and begins to smell. Fear not, many garden centers have self maintaining ‘ponds’, which are a good size, have plants and/or fish and are set up to stay clean and frog friendly with the minimum of fuss. Native fish feed on mosquito larvae and will not harm tadpoles. Species to look for are Pacific Blue Eyes, Firetail Gudgeons, or Crimson-spotted Rainbow Fish. Talk to your local pet store or nursery, and some councils have a free native fish program.
Australia is one of the driest continents so everyone enjoys a free drink. Putting a bird bath in your garden is probably one of the easiest things to do. You can use virtually any old pots and pans that have outlived their usefulness in the kitchen but remember, it should be steady, easy to clean, with sloping sides, and roughly textured so that birds can grip easily, if it is slippery place a stone in the middle. You should place the bird bath in the open so that birds will feel safe from predators like cats and so that there is no cover for the predators to hide in. Adding height to your birdbath will help with this. Also try to avoid placing it in full sun as this may cause slimy algal growth. A good spot is on the shady side of your building where the plants won’t grow anyway and keep it at a height so you can check and change the water daily without needing a ladder.
Many native species use tree hollows for nesting. However there are very few natural tree hollows due to land clearing and the loss of mature trees, especially in the suburbs. If you want to put up a nesting box make sure it at least three metres of the ground or native animals won’t find it interesting enough. To stop myna birds and sparrows moving in make sure you have the right sized hole in your nest box; 70mm prevents Brush-tailed Possums, 45mm prevents Common Mynas, 35-40mm prevents Starlings, 28mm prevents House Sparrows and 26mm prevents Tree Sparrows, a “baffle” at the front of the also helps. Alternatively you can install a box for micro-bats (which are instectivores) which has an opening underneath, just keep an eye out for honey bees also using the nest. You can purchase pre-made nestboxes online, or try the local Mens’ Shed.
Lizards and snakes are nature’s pest control officers – they keep numbers of insects and rodents down, and are protected, not for their safety but for yours. Most people are bitten by snakes while trying to kill them or remove them from the garden. Keep grass short and clean up the yard, remove old timber, broken pots, and weeds and garbage near the house, this is where bugs and vermin live and that is what the snakes are after. If you have a vermin free yard chances are there wont be any snakes either.
If you don’t mind the occasional visitor a hidden corner of your yard is ideal to provide a spot for hiding and sunbaking. Some ideas are: mulch/garden waste and leaf litter, old timber or branches, unused terracotta plant pots, pile of rocks old concrete or ceramic pipes. Essentially move everything away from the house and perhaps place this in a fenced off area, to keep children and dogs out, far away from the house, this way they can roam freely without the risk of them harming native wildlife. Alternatively you could den or restrain your dog at night and keep your cat inside to prevent them from harming native animals (goes for children too!)
One thing you should never do though is feed the natives. Native fauna can become dependent on food provided by humans, causing them to forget how to hunt and source food for themselves. This can become a real issue when humans move house or go away on holidays, as the “reliable” food source has disappeared. Many native birds and animals used to this repeated feeding will perish in these situations. You can, however, provide water and shelter which will be greatly appreciated.
So now there are no excuses, get out there and start gardening!
Download the plans for a Horizontal Habitat / Nest Box and Platform here
Download Habitat / Nest Box Specifications here
Download Vertical Habitat / Nest Box here
Download Bat – Insectivorous Habitat / Nest Box here