First of all we need to emphasize that neither NWF (National Wildlife Federation) nor the City of Coral Springs is expecting homeowners to create a Yellowstone National Park in their backyard. Also the concept of "backyard" habitat is slightly misleading. Although most people do create the habitat in their backyard there are plenty of examples of homes that have for some reason or another chosen to create their habitat in the front, side and/or backyard.
Another common misconception is what actually qualifies as wildlife. In many cases the kind of wildlife a homeowner wants to attract to a habitat will depend on the size and location of the yard. A small habitat that measures only 10 x 12 ft. will probably not be suitable for a family of raccoons but might be; appropriate for a variety of songbirds and butterflies. A larger habitat may well be able to accommodate larger animals including squirrels, opossum and maybe in some cases even foxes. Look at your potential habitat and plan it to attract the wildlife you are comfortable with.
Finally, the purpose of creating a backyard habitat is not to just simply feed animals and contribute to an unnaturally high and unsustainable population of certain animals (i.e. Muscovy Ducks, Raccoons, etc.). The purpose of creating a wildlife; habitat is to create an environment that mimics a natural environment as closely as possible. This means that animals visiting the habitat will have opportunity to find what they need but they will still have to work for it. In other words, simply placing a bird feeder in the backyard and putting bird seed on it does not qualify as wildlife habitat.
Food can take on many different forms depending on what kind of wildlife is being targeted. The simplest form and in many cases the appropriate form of wildlife habitat would be a butterfly garden. Butterfly gardens are relatively simple and inexpensive to create. In addition to attracting butterflies and being able to follow the entire life-cycle from egg through caterpillar to chrysalis and adult butterfly these gardens also frequently attract birds that either feed on the various stages of butterflies or on fruits and berries produced by the butterfly plants. An added bonus is that often the appropriate nectar plants for butterflies also attract hummingbirds!
Also, don't forget the food chain! Even if you "only" provide food for butterflies these will in turn move around the neighborhood and find other appropriate host plants or become a food source for other animals outside of your habitat.
A word of caution about using any from of insecticide around a butterfly garden. Insecticides will kill ALL insects and not just the ones you want to get rid of. If you create a butterfly garden you should consider using pesticides only as a very last resort and not the first thing you try. Practicing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a good start but in some cases there are even easier solutions. Examples for these are "natural" controls which can be as simple as removing an infested plant or part of a plant before the problem becomes too widespread, using water and a mild detergent to wash off the unwanted insects or consider releasing beneficial biological insects such Ladybugs or Praying Mantis on the infested plant. For more information on this and many other Florida friendly gardening tips visit the following website: "Gardening with Florida Yards & Neighborhoods"
Following are links to a few commonly used native butterfly plants but there are many more: Wild Coffee, Firebush, Fiddlewood, Coontie, Beautyberry, Blue Porterweed, Milkweed. For a more detailed list of plants with additional tips on butterfly gardening click here for a publication from the University of Florida.
Other potential wildlife food sources are already common throughout every ones yard and don't really take any special work to create. Who doesn't have lizards, insects of all kinds, or possibly fruits and nuts from already existing trees in their backyard? All of these are potential food sources for other animals and a part of your habitat.
In many cases water is the easiest element to make available to wildlife in South Florida because we are surrounded by lakes and canals. Often our properties backup to a body of water that is home to a whole host of water animals ranging from fish to amphibians like frogs and reptiles like turtles and even snakes. Also taking advantage of this habitat are a large variety of birds including Great Egret, Anhinga, Wood Stork (endangered) and Osprey.
If your property does not border on a body of water providing this habitat requirement can be as simple as setting up a birdbath or as complicated as creating a more elaborate water scape feature that could include waterfalls, streams and ponds.
COVER AND A PLACE TO RAISE YOUNG:
Frequently these are one and the same and can be tailed about together. Cover and a place to raise young is again something that already exists in many peoples yards. It can be a tree in which birds sit or build a nest, it can be a tree with a hollow in which squirrels or woodpeckers have found a home. Shrubs and bushes can serve both as a place of shelter as well as a nesting opportunity for smaller birds and small mammals. Of course the already discussed butterfly garden serves this purpose for butterflies and many other insects. Aside from these already existing features various nesting opportunities can be created to help attract wildlife.
Examples include Purple Martin houses, various bird houses and even bat boxes all of which can be purchased or even made from scratch fairly easily. Obviously providing shelter and a place to raise young for animals like Purple Martins and bats brings with it the added benefit of having a natural mosquito control living on your property.
Information on how to build your own:
If you have questions regarding the Coral Springs certification program and how you can get involved, please call 954-344-1117 or visit the National Wildlife Federation website for Backyard Habitat application form at www.nwf.org/backyard.