Creating a Habitat

By Eve Pranis, June 23, 2008

A creature's habitat is a place where individuals of that species or type can usually be found. It contains all the components the organism needs to survive.

At the most basic level, all wildlife require food, water, shelter from predators and the elements, and safe places to raise their young. Consider asking your students to brainstorm and create a list of things humans need to survive. Then try creating a list for other animals and one for plants. How do the lists compare?

If you want to invite more wildlife into your school grounds, you should first discover who's already in the neighborhood and what types of features and conditions exist, then decide who you'd like to attract and learn about the habitat requirements of your intended guests.

Lay the groundwork.

Invite students to explore the schoolyard and keep a record of their observations. What types of life forms can you find? What part of the habitat is each found in (under rocks, on plant leaves, in water)? Do some organisms seem to prefer certain conditions (sun, shade, moist areas)? How are they interacting with other living and nonliving parts of their environment? Do animals seem to be using certain types of plants for food? Shelter?

You may also want to explore nearby lots, parks, and so on, to get an idea of the wildlife in the area that might be enticed to the schoolyard. Invite students to compare the amount of wildlife in an area like a lawn, with few plant species, to what's in a meadow or even a weedy lot. (They should discover that as the diversity of plants increases so does the amount and diversity of wildlife.)

Assess site conditions.

Challenge students to evaluate the characteristics of your own site. Which habitat elements already exist? A water source? Key plants? What are the sun and shade patterns? Students can use a grid system to create a scaled map of the area that they can use as a template for planning.

Develop a plan.

Once you have a sense of what conditions you have and the types of wildlife that might be in your area, devise your own plan. Have students research the needs of wildlife they hope to attract, then list the plants and other features they'll need to include. Remind them to consider a creature's entire life cycle; butterflies, for instance, have different food requirements as caterpillars than as adults. Which habitat elements will you need to modify or introduce? Then consider the physical changes you might make (e.g., bird-feeding stations and brush piles) and types of plantings (butterfly garden or prairie restoration). How will you enhance your area for human visitors (building an interpretive trail or making a viewing guide to your wildlife habitat)?

In general, the greater variety of plant types you have (trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, and so on), the more wildlife you'll attract. Native plants are better adapted to local conditions and to wildlife needs. You'll also tend to find more wildlife in transitional areas where two types of habitats meet, such as the edge of a woods and a meadow. Think about ways to provide water for wildlife. This can take the form of mud puddles, bird baths, or ponds. Never use pesticides or herbicides in a garden or site meant to attract, feed, and shelter wildlife.

Develop a plan.

Once you have a sense of what conditions you have and the types of wildlife that might be in your area, devise your own plan. Have students research the needs of wildlife they hope to attract, then list the plants and other features they'll need to include. Remind them to consider a creature's entire life cycle; butterflies, for instance, have different food requirements as caterpillars than as adults. Which habitat elements will you need to modify or introduce? Then consider the physical changes you might make (e.g., bird-feeding stations and brush piles) and types of plantings (butterfly garden or prairie restoration). How will you enhance your area for human visitors (building an interpretive trail or making a viewing guide to your wildlife habitat)?

In general, the greater variety of plant types you have (trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, and so on), the more wildlife you'll attract. Native plants are better adapted to local conditions and to wildlife needs. You'll also tend to find more wildlife in transitional areas where two types of habitats meet, such as the edge of a woods and a meadow. Think about ways to provide water for wildlife. This can take the form of mud puddles, bird baths, or ponds. Never use pesticides or herbicides in a garden or site meant to attract, feed, and shelter wildlife.

 

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