How to Create a Wildlife Habitat Plan

A plan provides you with a clear picture of the completed project and a road map on how to get there.

The greater the number and variety of habitat components that you provide… the more wildlife you will have to observe and enjoy. Those of you with acreages or farms usually have numerous opportunities to observe wildlife in their habitat. But, for those of you who live in or near urban areas, this may be limited to several days or weekends during the year when you are on vacation.

This doesn’t have to be the case. If you are limited on being able to go where there are wildlife, why not establish or enhance the wildlife habitat where you live and bring the wildlife to you.

You will save yourself energy, money, and the frustration of having to do parts of your habitat over again if you follow a plan. It can be flexible enough for you to alter your plan as you go along, if your needs or conditions change.

And, it can be done no matter what your budget. Keep in mind that shrubs are more desirable than trees since shrubs provide habitat quicker and at less cost. Trees generally take longer to grow to maturity and cost more.

While doing your plan, you have an opportunity to really get creative and have some fun! In fact, this is a great family activity. What better legacy for your children or friends than an appreciation of nature. Creating or enhancing your wildlife habitat can lead to father-son, mother-daughter, and entire family projects.

Oftentimes, these activities produce fond memories that we carry with us for the rest of our lives – or at least until our children do the same things for their children.

Now, move ahead to Step 1:


Step 1:

What are your primary interests?

  • Bird watching
  • Teaching or sharing nature experience
  • Nature photography
  • Hunting
  • Other nature interests


Do you want to observe wildlife from a specific window or door of your home? If yes, which?

If you want to observe or make photographs, where is the best place to install a feeder station or birdbath so you can take advantage of the light and make better photographs?

What are your objectives for your wildlife habitat? For example, you might want to attract five new wildlife species to your property. Or, you may want to install within the next month, two new feeders or birdhouses and a birdbath along with planting some new trees or shrubs in the fall that eventually will produce food for wildlife.

Those of you with acreages or farms may want to set aside an acre or two and plant them to such crops as soybeans, millet, grain sorghum, or sunflowers and then leave the crop in the field over the winter rather than harvesting it. This will give wildlife food to eat during a time when it is hard to find.

Step 2:

What kinds of wildlife are already on your property?

List the different species you currently observe and those you would like to attract on separate sheets of paper. Now check which habitat elements—food, water, cover, and space—you currently have and check the elements you want to add to your habitat.

FOOD – nuts, berries, insects, fruits, grain and seeds, nectar, browse and forage plants. Providing a variety of foods is probably the most important part of your wildlife habitat.

If you can’t plant trees or shrubs on your property, establish a year-round feeding and watering station.

COVER – provides protection from weather and predators. It is right behind food in importance. Cover can be trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers, rock piles, brush piles, field crops such as corn, grain sorghum, and soybeans, cut banks, hollow trees, birdhouses, burrows, bridges, abandoned buildings, fence rows and hedgerows. It is important for cover to be close to food and water.

WATER – essential for all wildlife – includes ponds, streams, plants, dew on grass, leaves, fruits, and birdbaths. You need to preserve and manage water in your habitat where it exists and, if absent, build new sources such as ponds, fountains, and baths.

SPACE – territory to roam in and to raise families in. This can range from needing 100 acres for pairs of wild turkeys to at least 300 ft. between bluebird houses. Space may be the most difficult to provide.

Step 3:

Now take a tape measure (100-ft. if possible) and a pad of paper outside so you can make a rough map of your property.

This will save you time and mistakes that can be costly later. It’s a lot easier to move elements around on paper instead of having to dig up and move plants or trees if they aren’t what you want. Start with the outside dimensions of your property. Measure and mark your map with the boundaries. Your property title or deed should list the dimensions. Now locate all structures such as your house. You can do this by first drawing the basic exterior structure outline of each building. Make sure you indicate which elements jog out from, or indent into, the main walls.

Walk around the exterior of your structures, measure each side of the outside walls and record the measurements on your rough map. Next, measure the distances from the corners of each structure to your property lines. Indicate where windows and doors are located on your house. Finally, measure, locate, and label existing trees, shrubs, flower beds, and any water features.

If you have an acreage or farm, you may want to first do a plan for just your house, yard, and buildings. Then, do a plan for your entire property on a different scale. Indicate the size of your fields, field positions in relationship to your house and buildings, what crops you are growing—also rivers, streams, fencerows, thickets, ponds, woodlots, etc.

Step 4:

Now sit down with your rough map and draw your habitat map to-scale.

Indicate directions and the prevailing wind patterns. Be sure and plot all food, water, and cover elements. You might also want to indicate where you have observed specific species.

Step 5:

Check the wildlife habitat components for each basic habitat element that you have or want to add.

If your property contains the following living plants and structural components, chances are you will have wildlife galore. But, don’t despair if you can only provide one or more – every effort helps.

Living Plants:

  • Conifers
  • Grasses and Legumes/ Nectar Plants
  • Summer Fruit & Cover Plants
  • Fall Fruit, Grain & Cover Plants
  • Winter Fruits and Cover Plants
  • Nuts and Acorns (mast)


Structural:

  • Den Trees (snags)
  • Nest Boxes
  • Rock Piles & Brush Piles
  • Cut Banks, Cliffs & Caves
  • Dust & Grit
  • Salt


After you have indicated your choices, take a look at each item as to what is practical from the following points of view: access, time, money, location, assistance needed, and what is legal.

Step 6:

Select the projects or components you want to implement.

If you are planting trees or shrubs, allow enough space for the size you expect them to be in 20 years. Sometimes it is good to set your map aside after you complete it, and, after a couple of weeks, come back and see if it still fits your needs.

Step 7:

Sketch out an action plan/schedule and budget for the projects you have selected and implement them.

If you are going to do the work yourself, be practical and realistic about the time you can devote to the work.