This first appeared in Triangle Gardener magazine–Helen Yoest
From earlier writings, you may remember reading about the needs of our local wildlife. Wildlife gardens benefit from food, water, nesting sites, and cover. The focus of this piece is all about cover.
Even we humans need to find cover, and our wildlife is even more in need. We can size up people to know if we should worry, most of the time, but birds, for example, flinch and flight at any sound. Building a garden that provides plenty of covers so they can easily escape from potential predators, is much appreciated. In addition to protection from threats, our wildlife needs places to find shelter from extreme weather conditions, such heavy rain, snow, ice, or our sweltering summer heat.
Some animals are more selective or specialized than others in their cover requirements. For example, butterflies look for stacked stone while our native bees need.
Cover requirements for any particular species will also vary according to season and stage of the animal’s life cycle. The type of cover you provide should be influenced by the type of wildlife that frequent your property or those that you would like to attract.
In many cases, the cover requirements for one species overlap with those of another. Diversity is key. Plan your garden with a mixture of trees and shrubs, both deciduous and evergreen, as well as perennials and vines. Include, too, brush piles and fallen logs.
Look around your garden to see what you already have, and what more you can incorporate.
Along with diversity, density is just as important; do both at each level within the garden: ground plain, mid-plain, and upper-plain.
The ground level with a mixture of grasses, low shrubs, and herbaceous (non-woody) plants. These low areas provide quick escape for ground feeding birds such as Mourning Dove or Eastern Towhee.
If you have rock or brick left over from a project tucked out-of-the-way, don’t think of it as an eyesore; rather consider a place of cover for wildlife—ground feeding birds, butterflies, and chipmunks. The crevices created within the pile are perfect spots for the wildlife to escape.
Similar to rock piles, log and brush piles provide cover for small birds and mammals. Piles can be just that, and it is what I do when I stack wood for an outdoor fire. You can also create their own special cover with larger wood on the bottom and smaller limbs on time. When stacking leave space at the base so the base leaves larger area in the center for the wildlife to except to and allow movement within the pile.
Shrub/Seedling areas are valuable as nesting cover, escape cover, and a food source for many birds and mammals. Allow some areas of young trees and shrubs across your property to grow more densely.
Along the forest edge is where many birds find brood cover. Allow some areas of young trees and stubs to grow more densely. Also note, while dense areas are beneficial to many birds, it is a the detriment to some birds such as the Eastern Bluebird, unless you also have open areas as well.
If natural options aren’t available for you, consider constructing a birdhouse specifically for the types of birds you would like to attract to your habitat. Many of the area’s cavity dwellers include Bluebirds, Chick-a-dees, Nuthatches, Titmice, and Wren, plus Kestrels, Owls, Woodpeckers
If you leave a snag (dead tree) for tree cavities, make sure as it degrades, the debris won’t fall on your neighbor’s property or something valuable on yours.
Find space for protective wildlife cover is a major part of having a pollinator and wildlife habitat garden. Add something today to giving your birds and butterflies as save haven.