Certify Your Wildlife Habitat: Food
Food for wildlife comes in many forms and can be seasonally supplied by native plantings and supplemented during leaner months. In order to certify, your food plants need only offer food at one time in their life cycle. Still, try to aim for a diversity of plants and habitat requirements which will offer at least something to eat year-round.
Plant shrubs that flower and produce berries. Native plants provide nectar, seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, foliage, pollen and insects eaten by an exciting variety of wildlife. Plants with colorful flowers will especially attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Bird and squirrel feeders can supplement natural food sources. Leaving the seed pods on plants as long as possible helps winter wildlife.
Native plants are best suited to the year-round climate of your location. For generations, wildlife have been developing relationships with native plants from the seasonal timing to the shape of the flowers! Plant a wide variety of native plants that bloom and fruit at different times of the year to stagger what is offered for wildlife. Some plants will bloom or fruit earlier or later than others. Pollinators will come for the blooms, mammals and songbirds for the fruit, insects for the vegetative matter, and predators will come for those animals—completing the life cycle!
Try to offer a variety of food types: nectar, pollen, vegetative matter, fruit, nuts, seeds, and decaying organic material.
During lean times, such as the high, dry summer in the desert or the dry winter of the north, it is legal in AZ to offer supplemental feeding for birds and squirrels. Nuts and seeds mixes or suet offer healthy fats and protein when wildlife need it the most to keep warm. Hummingbird feeders offer hydration and a food source. Make sure to wash your bird feeders and hummingbird feeders regularly.
It is illegal to feed larger wildlife such as deer, elk, javelina, skunks and raccoons—all of which like the nuts and seeds too. These larger wildlife can become too accustomed to humans, which leads to injuries to themselves or us. Putting bird seed up in trees can help reduce this problem. Planting native plants that offer a food source during lean times is another solution. In the desert, plant barrel cactus and prickly pear, which fruit in the summer. In the high country, plant pines and leave sunflowers heads through to the spring.
Be tolerant of predators—they are a sign of a healthy food chain.
Be tolerant of insects, even caterpillars and worms and other larva. Most songbirds feed young with caterpillars. Again, having a rich diversity of native plants along with reducing your use of pesticides, will foster a healthy and diverse ecosystem which offers lots of types of food.
Your edible vegetable garden is also a source of food for wildlife, not just you! Pollinators are a welcome sight and help our garden plants set fruit. Predatory insects will also find something good to eat too! Birds will enjoy your garden and snakes might come along to eat the animals who are eating your garden. Organic farmers know to plant more so the wildlife can have some. You can also reduce wildlife taking from your garden plot by puttering around in your garden daily, cleaning up weeds and dead material, and harvesting ready produce.