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Fostering biodiversity in wild animals

 
Posts: 66
Location: Western Kentucky - Zone 7
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I've had cabin fever with all this cold weather and I decided I would make birdhouses for the farm and mason bee boxes. I was wondering what are some other critters I can foster on our farm? I have thought of getting large rocks for lizards to sun on in the orchard, and I am still still debating on an in-ground water feature as the ground is subject to deposits of gravel. We are getting honey bees in the Spring through an extension program, which will be a great boon. Any more thoughts?
 
steward
Posts: 4732
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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You might build birdhouses to attract specific species of birds: wrens, bluebirds, swallows, owls, kestrels, pigeons, doves, etc. How about something to house bats?

Same with the solitary bees. You might drill hole sizes for different species of predatory wasps and/or leaf cutters.

Those sorts of things provide shelter.

How's the water situation in Kentucky? Out here in the desert, a puddle of water attracts a lot of species.

And you might increase animal biodiversity by increasing plant biodiversity. By providing more different types of foods for the animals to eat.
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Nesting box, sized and sited to attract bluebirds.
 
Kevin Goheen
Posts: 66
Location: Western Kentucky - Zone 7
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Good thoughts, especially with the bat boxes! In Kentucky its not uncommon to have surface droughts, but water is everywhere. Even our well has about 90 ft of water. However our well is on the other side of the farm away from the gravel deposits leading into the valley on the southside.  I would like to see more wildlife in general except for deer and rabbits for which my scarecrow has done well.
 
master steward
Posts: 2694
Location: USDA Zone 8a
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How about plants to attract butterflies and other pollinators?

Piles of rocks make nice homes for all kinds of critters.

We have brush piles to make a habitat for all kinds of critters.

Feeding existing wildlife draws other species to your property.
 
gardener
Posts: 6349
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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We plant medicinal herb beds for our bees as well as many wild flower species, trumpet vines for humming birds.
I love bat houses and have two large ones in the woods that are starting to be full enough that I'll need another pair.

For our bees, I plant clovers in the pastures and we don't collect honey once September comes around, that gives our bees the honey they need for winter.

The more plant diversity you can have, the better the critters like to come and hang around.
Rock piles are good but stacking them is better since you can set them up so snakes don't have places to hide or live but lizards do.
Brush piles are also good animal attractors, just keep it in mind that snakes will go to these for baby bunnies, rodents and the other residential brush pile loving critters.

Redhawk
 
pollinator
Posts: 1793
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Insect hotels are beautiful, easy to build, and can be made from entirely scrounged materials so can be free.  These are really fun to build and the only limiting factor is your imagination.  Really a great project.
 
gardener
Posts: 1788
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Building off the great suggestions already mentioned if your goal is to increase the diversity of wild animals I would recommend three approaches. First, as others have mentioned add a diversity of structure to your land by adding wood/branch piles, rock piles, rock slabs, single logs, earthen mounds, etc. Second, as others have mentioned I would add some water features - these could be small or large depending on the size of your property and could also be seasonal. A bird bath or small lined pond could help. Fourth, I would expand on the suggestion of increasing your plant diversity by making sure to add a wide range of native plants to your property.

The first option will increase micro-habitats, hiding places, etc. This will result in new niches where different species can live, eat, hide, etc. These structures will also trap falling leaves and other debris creating good habitat for a lot of critters. Snakes and other potentially problem species could be an issue but that depends on the type you have in your area. The snakes where I live don't really cause any problems and I find them beneficial (garter snakes eat slugs). But if that is an issue for you I would just place these structures further away from your house, domesticated animals, or other areas where they would not be welcomed.

The second option will support a wide range of different species. Holding water on a property almost always makes a place bloom. Small seasonal ponds could support local amphibians, lots of different insects, and other wildlife. Plus wet areas open up a whole new range of planting options. Creating a pond or wet area and planting with native wetland plants will attract a lot of local wildlife.

The third option will support a lot of critters that tend to be forgotten. Non-native plants will support your local generalist species of wildlife that can use a wide range of plants but native plants will go beyond this by also supporting the picky or specialist species. A classic example is the monarch butterfly and its reliance on milkweed. But there are many other species of insects that rely on a single native plant or a small group of native plants and won't use the non-native ones. Many of these specialist species are less showy than the monarch and may go unnoticed by you and I. But having a diverse mix of insects at the base of the food chain will support many other wildlife including the birds that we all love to see. I was listening to an audio book the other day that mentioned research that indicated that on average native plants will support upwards of 20 times the number of species compared to a non-native plant - its just that most of these species are small insects that go unnoticed by most people. Does not mean you need to only plant native plants but if you can they are great to add to your property.

I would try to create as many edges and diverse types of habitat that you can. For example have some small (or large if you have room) areas with a tree canopy, then have some meadows or grassland areas, add in a small pond area, a wetland area, a more open forest (could be a food forest), etc. Then where all these different types of habitat meet you can plant edge species to even further increase the diversity. Now add in some extra structure by adding logs, rocks, etc. If you go down that route of creating edges, increasing diversity, etc. you should see a big increase in the amount of wildlife your place supports. Also, all these options can be scaled to the size of your place. The main thing is to increase edges and diversity.

One thing to remember is that many species need a mix of habitat depending on their life cycle. For example, a bird may need an open meadow for feeding but then need a nearby shrub or tree area for nesting. This is another reason why creating a lot of diversity of structure and plants will support a much more diverse set of wildlife. Also, consider the land around you. If your neighbor has a big field that will always be managed as a field you could add trees along the boarder to create edges and more diversity. Or if your property is next to a large forest then having an open meadow or grassland would also create new edges and support more species.

But there are also some species of wildlife that need large tracks of a specific type of land say deep established forest far from any open edges. So if your property was located between two forests but was currently not forested you could create a forested corridor connecting the two forests. You could still have open land on either side of the corridor.

Some of these options will really depend on the size of your property and how you are using it - just things to consider.

Hope that helps!
 
gardener
Posts: 2347
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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A trapper I met goes into the bush and with a 'square' hay bale on his packframe. He carries it off into the bush and then spreads the hay out in a few drier protected locations underneath trees or leaning rocks.  This increases the rodent population.  In nature, the result of an increased rodent population is an increase in the predator population, so then, in the next few years he can trap predators (mink, marten, foxes, etc), without depleting regional stocks.  This method might also increase the populations of certain seed eating or predatory birds, or predatory snakes.  
 
Kevin Goheen
Posts: 66
Location: Western Kentucky - Zone 7
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These are all really good suggestions, which it gave me the thought since our permaculture orchard we have is on a hill we could build some swales for not only production but also biodiversity. Which would be easier to commit to than a small pond. Thanks guys for the thoughts! and I will definitely be working on some bat houses and certainly looking into insect hotels!
 
Anne Miller
master steward
Posts: 2694
Location: USDA Zone 8a
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One thing I have not seen mentioned is something that our wildlife management program mentions.  Let the trees and bushes grow up your fence lines instead of keeping them manicured.  This way the wildlife has more cover to hide in plus more places for nesting areas.
 
pollinator
Posts: 229
Location: istanbul - turkey
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As someone living in a big city my experience is that hugelbeds built improperly attract so various critters you just wouldn't believe. Instead of aiming 40% wood content, go big and aim for 80-90%. "Not enough soil" is probably the most widespread mistake, as I had my share of learning. Initially it becomes a shelter for many critters, then it becomes a buffet for owls, foxes, weasels and even hedgehogs. I didn't know we had foxes in the city till I built a hugel-like wood pile.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Let the trees and bushes grow up your fence lines instead of keeping them manicured.  This way the wildlife has more cover to hide in plus more places for nesting areas.

With non manicured plants, you get a diversity of heights, widths, and general shapes.  In addition to what was mentioned by Anne (or to further describe the hiding places and nests), a much greater diversity of insects, birds, rodents, and spiders will find their niche in a this more varied hedgerow.  This will then correspondingly attract the creatures that prey upon them.   In addition to this, the more plant species that are put in the hedge, the greater the potential for corresponding niches with associated creatures.

This is both the permacultural edge effect and the stacking of functions.  
 
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