Habitat Enhancement and Creation

Habitat loss is perhaps the single greatest threat to wildlife worldwide. When many think of habitat loss, images of melting polar ice caps or rainforest deforestation may come to mind. However, right here at home there are many plants and animals that are threatened by the loss or degradation of habitat. Tippecanoe County is home to diverse habitats like prairies, woodlands, wetlands and river systems. By providing high-quality habitat throughout our county, we create a healthier and more resilient ecosystem for both wildlife and ourselves.  To learn more about creating wildlife habitat in your own backyard, we’ve provided some useful information below.  In addition, we encourage you to check out the additional resources from others that we have included for your information.

Backyard Habitat
Prairies

 

Backyard Habitat

Creating wildlife habitat on your property is more than just a way to beautify your yard, it is essential to helping native plants and animals survive. Although Tippecanoe County is fortunate to have wonderful city, county and state parks, wildlife can’t rely on these “islands” of habitat to survive. The majority of the landscape is privately-owned. Citizens living and working on private lands can make small changes to their properties, which together can make a significant positive impact on wildlife.

Whether you have a modest backyard, or a large farming operation, there are steps you can take to make your property more accommodating to wildlife. All animals need food, water and shelter; here are some steps to provide these essentials to your local wildlife.

  • Native Plants: These plants are adapted for local conditions, so they are lower maintenance than many exotic ornamentals. Native plants provide food and shelter to wildlife; in fact some animals depend solely on a certain species of plant in order to survive. Incorporating native trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs into your yard will create food and shelter for wildlife. The greater the variety of native plants your yard has to offer, the more diversity of wildlife you’ll have. If planting a forest or prairie isn’t within your means, even incorporating native plants into your existing landscaping with have positive effects.
  • Limit chemicals: Some wildlife are particularly sensitive to chemicals (like amphibians) so pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides should be used with caution. Chemically treating for pest insects may inadvertently kill beneficial predator insects, or pollinators like bees and butterflies. Leaching of lawn chemicals into groundwater is detrimental to wildlife and water quality, so always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Decreasing the amount of lawn and increasing the amount of native plants will lessen the amount to chemicals necessary for yard maintenance.
  • Water feature: Adding a water feature to your yard not only adds to the aesthetic appeal of your greenspace, but is also benefits wildlife. A water feature can be as simple as a shallow pan of water for butterflies to large wetland for waterfowl. Bird baths may be the most common way to offer water to wildlife, and they come in a variety of sizes and styles. A larger option, which may attract a greater variety of wildlife, would be to install a pond. Ponds can range from a small plastic molds about a foot deep to large ponds requiring earth-moving equipment.
  • Feeders: There are a large variety of birdfeeders, deciding on which to use on your property depends on what species you’d like to attract. Squirrels, raccoons, groundhogs and deer will sometimes eat a bird feeder. Some feeders are designed to only feed birds, while other feeders allow access by a variety of animals. The seed mix you use to fill the feeders will also determine which species will visit it. Hummingbirds require feeders made specifically for them, since they feed on nectar instead of seeds.
  • Houses: There are many styles of bird houses available, and some species are more particular about their houses than others. For example, if you’d like to attract Purple Martins (Progne subis) or Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) you would need to provide a house than suites their needs. Other species of birds, like the non-native House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), will build a nest just about anywhere. Other animals like bats, butterflies, and bees will utilize their own houses that are built meet their needs. Another type of animal is not as particular. A toad abode can be created by using a broken upside flower pot, or other item that provides a dark, damp retreat.
 birdhouses  coneflowers
Bird houses are available in all shapes and sizes. If you’d like to attract a particular species, be sure that your house meets their needs. Native plants, like these Purple Coneflowers, benefit native wildlife like American Goldfinches, which feed on the seeds. If you’d like to attract certain wildlife species, use plants that meet the needs of that animal.
 praying-mantis
Predatory insects, like this Praying Mantis, are beneficial because the eat pest insects.

For more information on Backyard Wildlife Habitat:

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Prairies

A prairie is a natural community dominated by grasses and forbs. There are few trees in a prairie, although species like black or burr oaks are adapted to prairie environments. Differences in soil types and the amount of rainfall influence what plants are found in a particular prairie. Prairies can be categorized as tall grass, short grass, or mixed prairies. Tall grass prairies are dominated by tall grasses, particularly big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii ) which reaches eight feet tall , and is found in areas which receive 30-40 inches of rainfall annually. Plant communities change as the amount of annual rainfall decreases from east to west. Short grass prairies are found where the climate is much drier, like Texas or eastern Montana. Mixed prairies include both tall and short species and are found in the transition area between the two.

Prairies are often associated with the Great Plains region of the United States, but portions of Indiana were once tall grass prairie. This natural region is known as the Grand Prairie. Grassland animals like bison and prairie chickens were once found here. Only about 15% of Indiana was originally prairie, including portions of Tippecanoe County, and now very little original prairie remains. Due to the fertile soils associated with grasslands, most of Indiana’s prairie has been converted to agriculture. Prairie remnants can be found in areas that were not tilled, such as pioneer cemeteries or along railroad right-of-ways. There are three types of Indiana prairie- sand prairie/black oak savannah, black silt-loam prairie, and dry gravel hill prairies. Dry gravel hill prairies were found on the gravel glacial terraces along the Wabash River.

Plants in a prairie ecosystem have special adaptations which make them well-suited to fire, grazing and drought. The growing points of these plants are located slightly below ground, so when a fire clears vegetation above the ground the plant is able to re-grow quickly. Nutrients are released from the plant material burnt in the fire, making readily available for the rejuvenated prairie plants. These below ground growing points also allow these plants to sustain grazing. Prairie plants also have extensive root systems. These deep roots allow the plant to endure drought. Species such as big bluestem (Andropodon geradii, switch grass (Panicum virgatum) and Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) can have roots seven feet deep or longer. When these plants die and their root systems decompose they are able to add nutrients to the soil, making prairie soils very fertile.

prescribed-fires prescribed-burns
Prairie ecosystems are specially adapted to fire. Prescribed fires are used as a management tool at this prairie at Prophetstown State Park. Fire is used to remove un-wanted plants and encourage the growth of desired plant species. Prescribed burns are conducted by trained professionals and should not be attempted without proper training and resources.
remnant-prairie prairie-establishment
The Granville Cemetery prairie is an example of a remnant prairie. It contains species like side-oats grama grass, yellow coneflower and New Jersey Tea. Prairies like this one have been established on lands that were previously used for agriculture. Seeded with a variety of warm-season grasses and forbs, these prairies offer habitat to wildlife such as quail and butterflies. There are cost share programs available to assist landowners who would like to establish a prairie.

For more information about Prairies:

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