04 Jul

how to make your backyard into a wildlife haven

We share our backyards with a range of species of birds, insects and reptiles. Read on below to learn about a few ways we can help protect them and make our backyards happy homes for them.

1. Trapping, baiting & monitoring

Reducing the number of pests, particularly rats, mice, stoats, hedgehogs, ferrets, weasels, possums and feral cats, will greatly reduce predation on our vulnerable native species. Many of Aotearoa's endemic (exist naturally only in one geographic place) species have no adaptations to the predation from these pests and are particularly susceptible to being hunted by them. Trapping is the most selective way to reduce pest numbers, and many trap types exist. Flippy Timmy traps are placed on tree trunks to catch possums, DOC 200's are fantastic at trapping many smaller animals including rats, mice, stoats, hedgehogs, ferrets, and weasels, and t-rex traps are a great cheaper way to trap rats and mice. Bait stations can also be cheap and effective for trapping pests, just be careful of any pets getting near the poison. To find out what particular pests you have in your backyard, tracking tunnels, wax tags or chew-card monitoring tools can be useful for learning what you need to target.

To learn more about trapping, baiting and monitoring, visit Predator Free NZ's website.

2. Habitat & food for birds

Biodiverse forests are amazing at supplying our native birds with food and shelter in order to survive, so it makes sense that mimicking these forests in your garden can greatly help out natives living in urban environments. Plants species that provide nectar-filled flowers, berries, seeds, and roosting spots are perfect for attracting birds into your backyard. There are also many species to suit your garden's needs, from small shrubs and flaxes to large and beautiful fruiting trees.

Plenty of resources exist to help you plant your own native garden - visit here for some advice, or visit Huia Lodge to purchase a copy of Fiona Eadie's '100 best native plants for New Zealand gardens' book.

If you don’t have a large backyard, consider adding a bird feeder or bath to your backyard or terrace. Birds need water, especially in summer, with hot temperatures and droughts, and sugar water can be very helpful for nectar-feeding birds in winter when food stocks are lower. Seed feeders can also help some birds but tend to mainly feed non-native and pest bird species.

Nectar feeders can be bought from many utility stores like Mitre10 or Bunnings, or try online here.

3. Habitat for reptiles & invertebrates

Although it may be a little unconventional, wildlife prefers a messy lawn and garden to a tidy one! Mulch, leaf litter, sticks, stone, logs (extra points for rotting wood!) and twigs are fantastic for providing insect and reptile species with homes and food. In turn, these species act as food sources for our native birds and together they keep the ecosystem healthy and thriving.

Reptiles particularly love hiding and laying their eggs in mulch, and you can make your garden enticing for them by adding a variety of dark-coloured stones. These stones absorb heat from the sun and allow the cold-blooded reptiles a great spot to sunbathe and warm up. To attract weta and other important insects such as bee species, you can build or buy a bug motel! These provide a quiet sanctuary for the insects to hide from predators and even hibernate over the winter months. Some weta motels even have clear windows that allow you to check in on your guests.

Instructions for building a weta motel are here.

Instructions for a bee hotel are here.

4. Keep pets under control

Our beloved pets provide us with companionship and unconditional love, however, they can make a dent in populations of birds, insects and reptiles. Keeping cats inside at night (or if you have the resources, all the time) can really positively impact native wildlife by reducing their hunting activities. Furry felines are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active at dawn and dusk - when many bird species are roosting and vulnerable - so keeping them inside during these hours can really help. Ensuring they are constantly fed is also helpful, and brightly coloured collars can help birds spot them before they pounce. Some examples of bird-safe collars can be found here.

Keeping dogs leashed, and under control, while walking in forested areas or on beaches can help reduce the risk to vulnerable ground-based and baby birds, particularly in spring and early summer - when many birds breed.

We hope this has given you some ideas on how to make your backyard into a wildlife haven.

If you live surrounding Cornwall Park, register with the Maungakiekie Songbird Project to get involved with their halo project, and receive free traps, tools and tips (and maybe even some native plants) for free! Visit their website here for more info.