Kids and Wildlife

PUBLISHED: 15:28 17 June 2008 | UPDATED: 15:15 20 February 2013



Imagine a home where instead of playing virtual adventures on the computer, the kids are out in the yard turning over logs to hunt for ants, running around chasing butterflies or sneaking up on an unsuspecting toad.

True, it might sound like crazy talk to modern parents, but there once was a time when kids actually did these things, before safety concerns and electronic entertainment moved childhood decidedly indoors. And it's not just a matter of nostalgia. A growing body of research exploring the disconnect between kids and nature says being outside among natural and wild things helps children develop the emotional, mental and physical skills they need to become happy and well-adjusted adults. So if you're struggling to figure out how to reintroduce your children to nature, you might want to start by inviting nature back into your yard.

Make your backyard a bastion of biodiversity
A backyard wildlife habitat filled with bright-coloured birds eating seed, butterflies resting on flower blooms and dragonflies flitting about will be an instant hit with kids -- especially if it also contains belching frogs, or even spooky bats for more adventurous parents. Not only will a habitat draw children outside, but the process of setting one up is a wonderful way to bring the family together, and it's great for the animals, too.

So how do you transform your average yard into a paradise literally buzzing with activity? Well, whether you're a novice or a pro, start with providing the basic needs of wildlife, then toss out the chemicals and bring in the native plants. Here are the essentials.

Animal needs
The Canadian Wildlife Federation breaks down the needs of wildlife into four categories: food, water, shelter and space.

Birdfeeders are great, but to attract a diversity of wildlife, try planting trees, shrubs or simple wildflowers that supply seed, nuts, fruits, berries or good-quality nectar.

Propping up a birdbath is a cinch, and a sure thing when it comes to wooing these cheerful creatures. But remember to change the water every other day to prevent mosquitoes from breeding and to scour it with a brush every few days. If space allots, consider a simple pond -- it's easier than you think to install, and once it's set up, it requires very little upkeep.

When scoping out suitable habitats to visit or raise their young in, animals always make sure there are places to hide, whether from predators or from inclement weather. They're looking for trees or shrubs (even the dead ones), piles of rocks or brush and old logs. Ponds, too, apart from providing water, meet aquatic creatures' shelter and family-rearing needs.

Birds don't see square-footage, they see in 3D, so think layers when constructing your habitat. Strive for a combination of tall trees and short, bushy shrubs, along with an array of wildflowers and groundcover.

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