Managing for Wildlife
Within their native habitats, animals should be able to find the basics necessities for maintaining their health and lives; water, food, and shelter. Native plants are the best source for food for the native animals in Hays County. They are hardier and, along with the wildlife, have adapted over millions of years to sustain of ecosystem of the County. Non-native plants can be invasive and take up valuable resources. When evaluating a piece of property for its wildlife potential, there are several things to consider. It is important to have many layers of native vegetation, because different species inhabit the different grasses, bushes, shrubs, and trees. The layers would include a ground cover of grasses and lower growing plants, a mid-story of shrubs and small trees, and an upper story or canopy of larger trees. A larger variety of wildlife is found in “edge” habitats, the areas where forest and fields or meadows come together. The greater the diversity within the habitat, the greater the diversity of wildlife it will support.
If water is not available naturally, it is a good idea to collect it for wildlife using any number of techniques such as guzzlers, rain gardens, and containers of various kinds. It is important that the water features are kept clean, and that there are escape methods available for small animals that might fall into a deep container, such as rocks, lattices, or pipes. One of the best sources of water that can be built to attract and sustain wildlife is a pond of any size. It can change the whole character of a property with the addition of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and insects that might not otherwise be found on the property. Ponds can be designed to have special features such as shallow areas for birds to bath in and for amphibians to live in. The sound of trickling or dripping water is a very effective wildlife attractant. If the property is on a slope, berms made of earth, logs, or brush can be constructed to slow the runoff of water, thus increasing vegetative growth and slowing erosion.
The best way to provide food is to plant a variety of fruit, edible foliage, seed, and nut bearing native plants. Additionally, seed, suet, and mineral feeders can be provided for supplemental food.
For cover or shelter, it is good to have some brush, planted or cut, that offer nesting and denning places for both birds and animals. Dead trees that are not otherwise dangerous should be left standing; they can also provide shelter for many species. As snags, they can provide lookout perches for many different birds and have the added bonus of birdwatching opportunities for people. Denning places can even be encouraged with old dog houses, overturned wheelbarrows, or old overturned pots. Rock piles and fallen logs would be another type of shelter that a variety of wildlife can use. There are several native species of birds and some mammals that are in-ground nesters, and we can help them by putting nest boxes of various types and supplying material such as raw wool, fur, and string. All of these actions can be done in a natural looking way that enhances the beauty of a property.