Attracting Wildlife To Your Garden
Bermuda is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. With a land area of just 55km2 (21 miles2), Bermuda has a population of around 65,000 and hosts about 500,000 visitors annually. Bermuda’s human residents share our island home with over 8,000 species of plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms.
These species are all around us – in the sea, the air, the soil, the parks, and in many cases – the garden. As Bermuda’s human population grows, we leave less and less space for the other residents, and our gardens become important havens for plants and wildlife. A garden of any size can be beneficial for wildlife, even a few pots on your front steps.
Here are a few ways you can make your garden more attractive to wildlife:
Grow a variety of plant species
Animals are attracted by plants that provide them with what they need. Bees, butterflies and other insects are attracted to flowers that supply them with pollen and nectar. Birds are attracted by plants that provide them with food, shelter and nesting sites. Choosing a variety of plant species that produce flowers and fruit at different times of the year will ensure your garden remains attractive to wildlife.
Grow a variety of plant types
Plants come in all shapes, sizes and growth habits; from large trees, to smaller shrubs, climbing vines, small herbs and flowers. The more types of plants you grow, the more microhabitats you create for a diversity of wildlife. The way you landscape with your plants is also important. Ground-feeding birds like the Bluebird benefit from a bit of open lawn where they can look for insects and worms; however manicured grassy lawns provide little habitat value for most wildlife. Clusters of large and small trees and shorter shrubs together will provide more shelter and a more attractive habitat.
As stated above, birds are attracted by plants that provide them with seeds, fruit or berries. The rotting vegetation in a compost pile or stack of logs will attract fungi, worms, roly-polies, crickets, spiders, slugs and other insects, which in turn will attract predators like birds, toads and lizards.
You may also consider a hummingbird feeder or a traditional bird feeder with seeds. Consider the location of your feeder carefully as even if it is up high the birds will follow feed that spills off it onto the ground. Don’t set up a feeder if you have a cat.
Providing a source of freshwater such as a pond or bird bath is an easy way to attract wildlife to your garden. Birds, toads, whistling frogs, lizards and insects such as bees and dragonflies will all benefit from a place to drink or bathe. Bermuda has no surface freshwater, so backyard bird baths provide a vital resource for the many species of migrant birds that pass through Bermuda – keep an eye on yours and you never know what unusual visitors you might see. Bird baths should be raised and in an open area to keep the birds safe from cats.
Backyard ponds can also be constructed with a liner. Make sure you include a ramp or small beach so wildlife can get out once it has gone in. To stop mosquitoes breeding in your pond Mosquito Fish (Gambusia sp.) or ‘guppies’ should be added to eat mosquito larvae. The larvae of dragonflies and damselflies live underwater and are predators that will also eat mosquito larvae, so encourage these insects in your pond too.
Poisoning the problem insects in your garden also kills beneficial insects or leaves them without food. It also has a harmful effect on lizards, toads and other predators that may eat the chemically treated insects. Consider ways to reduce your use of chemical pesticides and herbicides. Plant oils and botanical soap can be used to treat outbreaks of many garden pests. Encourage toads to call your garden home, they are a natural way to control cockroaches and also eat beetles, slugs, centipedes, earth worms and roly-polies.
Build wildlife “homes” in your garden
Giving wildlife a home in your garden can be a rewarding experience for both of you. If you have a coastal garden, consider installing an artificial nesting space for a Longtail (a longtail “igloo”). Bluebird boxes are also widely available; these should be installed on a pole in an open lawn between March and July.
Other wildlife, like lizards, will make a home in piles of branches or rocks. Old Bermuda stone walls also provide homes for a variety of wildlife in the cracks and dark, damp spaces.
Plants for Wildlife
Host Plants for Bermudian butterfly species:
Golden Shower Tree (Cassia fistula)
Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)
Capeweed (Phyla nodiflora)
Milkweed (Asclepias currassavica and Asclepias physocarpa )
Pentas (Pentas lanceolata)
Passionflower (Passiflora spp.)
Wild Mustard (Brassica spp.)
Native or endemic berry-producing plants:
To attract a diversity of wildlife, consider plants that produce berries at different times of the year and fruit of different sizes.
Snowberry – medium sized white berries in winter and spring
Bermuda Cedar(female tree only) – small purple berries ripen in the autumn
Bermuda Palmetto– large berries, turn black when ripe in autumn
Turkeyberry – small bright purple berries in late summer
White Stopper– medium size berries ripen in late autumn and winter
Southern Hackberry – small berries ripen in autumn
Yellowood – small berries ripen in autumn
Olivewood – large fruit ripen in autumn
Bay Grape – large fruit turn reddish when ripen in late autumn and winter
Wax Myrtle – small waxy berries ripen in autumn
Virginia Creeper Vine – small blue-black berries in late summer and autumn