Wildlife Habitat in Your Backyard

Downy Woodpecker at a suet feeder

Many Iowans find great joy in attracting all sorts of wildlife, from butterflies to deer, to their backyards for closer viewing. Depending on where you live and how hospitable your neighborhood is, you could find that a few simple changes to the way you manage your landscaping or when you put out your bird feeders can bring hours of enjoyment watching wild animals from the comfort of your home. Here we have provided some resources for homeowners to consider in improving the suitability of their back yards for Iowa's wild critters. 

Keep cats indoors - A scientific study conducted by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service found that free-ranging domestic cats are the leading cause of unnatural wildlife deaths in North America, killing over a billion birds and over six billion small mammals annually in the United States. For more information about the challenges posed to native birds by outdoor cats, visit the American Bird Conservancy's website.

Be aware of hazards around your home - Although it may be fun and exciting to watch deer or other wildlife in your back yard, if you live close to a major road way or other hazard attracting animals to your yard could do more harm than good for both the wildlife and people. Windows are also a common hazard for birds that struggle to see them and can fly into them and die. If you find birds are hitting your windows around your home, place screens on the outside of the windows or some other markings to help the birds perceive them. You can find many more tips for helping reduce window collisions with birds at this link to an article from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.  

Spare wild spaces with the mower - Many backyards and farmlots provide little for wildlife because of a strict mowing and maintenance schedule.  If you'd like to see more wildlife in your backyard and spend less time mowing during the summer, consider letting some areas grow up into natural areas or plant patches of habitat in your landscaping. You could just let the grass grow taller in these areas, but ideally you could plant perennial prairie grasses or shrubs, which would have low maintenance requirements and provide great backyard wildlife habitat. Check out our Landscaping for Wildlife page for more information and resources.  

Let nature be - If you are successful in attracting wildlife to your yard with quality landscaping or feeders, know that you have the responsibility to let wild animals be wild. You may find young wildlife in your yard, like deer fawns or nestlings, or witness things like a sharp-shinned hawk eating birds using your feeders. In almost all scenarios, this is just part of nature, and you should not feel obliged to interfere. Unaccompanied baby animals are often not orphaned and human interference tends to do more harm than good. Plus, most wild animals are protected by state or federal laws that make it illegal to capture them and keep them in your care.

Landscape scene with bird feeders and native plants

Backyards of any size can be an oasis for wildlife if the right habitat is created. Visit our pages on Landscaping for Wildlife and Feeding Wildlife to learn more.