Go directly to resources for: How to Create Wildlife-Friendly Habitats or How to Identify Wildlife and Successfully Share Your Space
The loss or fragmentation of wildlife habitat due to human incursion, invasive or non-native species, changes in climate, lower genetic diversity, disease, herbicides, pesticides, parasitism, and predation pose challenges to the survival of many species.
In the case of the declining monarch butterfly population, deforestation in Mexico has reduced overwintering sites. In the United States, agricultural practices and expansion have reduced monarch breeding sites through the destruction of milkweed (host plant to monarch caterpillars). Added to these threats are the extreme weather conditions occurring in the US, Canada, and Mexico.
In the case of declining native bee populations, loss of the complex native woodland, field, and meadow habitats to agriculture and urban/suburban sprawl have replaced many native flowers with impervious surfaces and weeds. The Mid-Atlantic Region has nearly 500 different native bee species according to the Eastern Ecological Science Center. Most are ground nesters and about 20%-45% are pollen specialists, meaning that they use only pollen from one species (or genus) of plants. When those plants disappear so do the bees with which they have a mutualistic relationship.
We can aid pollinators and other wildlife by creating natural, sustainable and environmentally-friendly habitats on our properties. This means using primarily native plants (and removing invasive species), which are suited to local conditions and are naturally more pest and disease resistant. Native plants usually will require less watering and maintenance and little to no use of pesticides that can harm water quality and wildlife. Also, the more diverse a habitat’s vegetation in terms of species, shape, size (with horizontal and vertical layers) and seasonal interest, the more diverse the wildlife it will entice.
For example, you can reverse some of the native bee losses by planting and managing native plants on your property. Below are some general categories of native plants that should be planted first, if possible, to support the picky specialist bees, which are less in number. Many of these plants also support other pollinators (e.g., like butterflies, moths, wasps), beneficial insects, birds, and other wildlife:
•Asters •Black-eyed Susan •Blueberry •Coneflowers •Dogwoods (shrubby) •Evening Primrose •Golden Alexanders •Goldenrod •Hibiscus •Hollies (native shrubs like Winterberry) •Ironweed •Monarda/Mint •New Jersey Tea •Penstemon •Pinxter Azalea •Ragwort •Spring Woodland species (like Bellworts, Spring Beauty, Troutlily, Wild Geranium) •Sunflowers (annual & perennial) •Thistle •Verbena/Vervain
Do you know that 87% of flowering plants world-wide depend on pollinators in order to reproduce? Yet, many pollinator species are in decline. For example:
• The World Wildlife Fund reported in May 2022, that the number of acres of winter habitat in Mexico occupied by monarch butterflies increased by 35% to 7.02 acres. However, this was still well below the circa 14.8 acre extinction threshold.
• According to preliminary May 2022 results of the 15th annual nationwide survey conducted by the nonprofit BeeInformed Partnership, beekeepers across the United States lost 45.5% of their managed honey bee colonies from April 2020 to April 2021.
• In June 2022, ScienceDaily reported that a dangerous variant of the deformed wing virus is on the rise worldwide. The virus infects honeybees, causing their wings to atrophy and the animals to die.
• According a 2017 report by the Center for Biological Diversity, nearly 1 in 4 (347) native bee species in North America and Hawaii is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.
• The percentage of at-risk leafcutter bees (47% of the 131 native species in North America) exceeds that of every other insect group that has been assessed by NatureServe up to 2016.
The following resources will aid you in attracting desirable wildlife species to your property; identifying wildlife when they come; and sharing your space without wildlife conflict.
How to Create Wildlife-Friendly Habitats
- Creating Inviting Habitats examines the habitat requirements for birds, hummingbirds, and butterflies common to Virginia, and gives an overview of planning your garden space to accommodate them. Consult the MGNV Tried-and-True Plant fact sheets to help choose the right natives plants for your particular space. Many of these plants are on display at the MGNV demonstration gardens.
- Audubon At Home Wildlife Sanctuary Program provides a range of practical ways that you can use to create more natural habitats around your home and more eco-friendly landscapes for birds, bees, and other beneficial wildlife. [Sponsored by the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia]
- Garden for Wildlife Program shows you the benefits of creating gardens that attract beautiful wildlife and help restore habitat in commercial and residential areas. [Sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation]
- Monarch Waystations are places that you can create and maintain in your gardens to provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration. [Sponsored by Monarch Watch]
- Pollinator Conservation Resource Center offers region-specific collections of publications, native seed vendors, and other resources to aid in planning, establishing, restoring, and maintaining pollinator habitat—as well as materials to help you learn about the various invertebrates you might encounter. [Sponsored by the Xerces Society]
Clockwise from left to right: Monarch butterfly on native Asclepias syriaca, monarch caterpillar on host milkweed, European honey bee and gold-green sweat bee on native Symphyotrichum cordifolium, leafcutter bee on nativar Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm,’ American bumble bee on native Physostegia virginiana, eastern box turtle, eastern chipmunk overlooking native plants in the Quarry Shade Garden, eastern gray squirrel on native Liquidambar styraciflua, American goldfinch on native Echinacea purpurea, and a fledgling American robin.
How to Identify Wildlife and Successfully Share Your Space
- All About Birds. Identify feathered friends and foes with this comprehensive guide to North American birds and bird watching from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- BugGuide. Learn more about insects, spiders and their kin from a knowledge base created by a community of naturalists from thousands of images collected from the United States and Canada.
- Butterflies and Moths of North America. Identify species from photographs and observations submitted by citizen scientists and quality-controlled by lepidopterists. [Also see Alabama Butterfly Atlas, which includes photographs of each life cycle stage and of dorsal and ventral wing views with text pointing out distinguishing characteristics.]
- Capital Naturalist Blog – Alonso Abugattas A reveals some of the wonders of the natural world found right around the Washington, DC Metropolitan area using his own photography and his life-long experiences.
- Sharing our Spaces with Wildlife – This pdf brochure recommends that you “ASK before you ACT” and provides tips to prevent conflicts with wildlife as well as resources to answer other wildlife questions you may have.
- Wildlife of Arlington: A Natural Heritage Resource Inventory Technical Report. Learn more about the wildlife commonly and uncommonly found in Arlington with this 2011 inventory compiled by the Arlington Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources. This pdf is a large file.
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