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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

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December 2003

Improving backyard habitat

To keep birds and wildlife coming back to your backyard habitat, you need to provide four basic elements: food, shelter, water, and diversity.

Maureen Mecozzi



Placing a variety of feeders and food around your backyard will draw in many different species of birds. Try platform feeders for ground feeding birds, hanging feeders for perching birds, and suet feeders for insect eating birds. For nectar feeding birds and butterflies, make your own feeding solutions:

  • Hummingbirds: 1 part sugar to 4 parts water.
  • Orioles: 1 part sugar to 8 parts water.
  • Butterflies: 1 part sugar to 18 parts water.

Change nectar solutions each week to prevent mold.


Planting native trees and shrubs provides shelter from the elements and predators. Select shrubs and trees dense enough to support nests, but open enough for birds to move freely among the branches. In spring, set up nesting platforms and boxes for specific bird species to use to raise their young under your wing.


Birds and wildlife are drawn to the sound of moving water. To make your bird bath or pool of fresh water doubly attractive, add a mister, dripper, or circulating pump.


Backyard habitat exists on a series of levels:

grass or ground cover (2" to 1')

shrubs (2' to 5')

small trees (5' to 15')

tall trees (15' to 40')

Offer food, water and shelter at each level and you will increase the diversity of your backyard and the number of species that use it. Select trees, plants and shrubs that produce berries, seeds, fruits, nuts, sap and nectar for year-round food – cedar waxwings, for instance – find the blue fruit of the red cedar tree irresistible.

Maureen Mecozzi is a contributing editor to Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.