You can make your property native-friendly by providing food for wildlife. And, no, we’re not just talking about bird feeders.
When you ponder providing food for wildlife, think about the food web. At the bottom are plants. What eats plants? Well, besides big herbivorous mammals like deer, plants support a wide variety of birds as well as the all-important insects that feed other birds (and amphibians, reptiles, smaller mammals, etc.)
So, to encourage all of this biodiversity, you start with cultivating native plants — those whose nectar, seeds, fruits and biomass feed all of the other native species, at least indirectly. You may wonder if insects would do just as well with non-native plants. Well, it turns out that the symbiotic relationship between an insect and its favorite plant can take thousands of years to develop. Here’s an informative (and sobering) passage from the National Park Service’s web site:
It takes millennia for specialized insect-plant relationships to develop. A well-known example is the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and milkweed (Asclepias spp.). Monarch mothers only lay eggs on milkweed species because monarch caterpillars have evolved the ability over tens of thousands of years to digest poisonous milkweed leaves other insects cannot eat. Replacing milkweed with day lilies for example, or another introduced plant, and expecting monarchs to evolve the ability to eat that instead is like expecting your cat or dog to suddenly evolve wings and fly. Adaptation in nature takes time.
Introduced plant species contribute almost nothing to the food web. Much of the exotic greenery we see in our residential areas provides as much nutrition as concrete or asphalt. The most visible example: replacement of native plants with 40 million acres of turf nationwide has led to a significant amount of habitat loss over the last couple centuries of our history.”
And, when it comes to bird feeders, you may wonder if they’re even a good idea. Do birds get dependent on them? What about their potential for spreading disease?
To answer these questions, I turned to the National Audubon Society, one of the best-known advocates for our feathered friends. The conclusion: Feeding birds is fine, so long as you clean up after them, as well.
For more on bird feeding, I direct you to Audubon’s article titled “11 Tips for Feeding Backyard Birds,” which concludes with some valuable PDF downloads.