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Plant 4 Wildlife, Waukesha, WI

Featured Site Created By Shane and Lori

After purchasing their new 3-acre property in the Midwest, Shane and Lori began transforming their land into wildlife habitat. “Plant 4 Wildlife” is situated just west of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and is already hosting a variety of wildlife, no doubt due to the owners’ vast knowledge about and passion for creating habitat for wildlife. In just a short while, these avid wildlife gardeners have accomplished a great deal, including the reduction of several nonnative invasive plant populations, starting the restoration of native prairie, planting many beneficial native plants, and providing nest boxes for birds throughout the habitat. Visit their YardMap and you’ll find many other important habitat features, such as a compost pile, rain barrels, and brush and rock piles, all of which help to conserve water and soil while benefiting birds. They’ve also certified their property as a Monarch Waystation through MonarchWatch and as Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation. The result is an impressive landscape designed to provide critical habitat to wildlife.

What work has been done to improve this site for birds and other wildlife? How long did it take?

Our first priority was to provide food and water, just to let them know there would be a steady supply they could depend on here. We put out bird baths around the property, including a heated bird bath through the winter months. As for feeders, we only use three types of food – black oil sunflower seed, nyjer (thistle) seed, and homemade suet.

Pollinator paradise

Photo © Shane Marvelli

The first couple of months were kind of slow; however, things quickly picked up as more birds located our feeders. We have only lived here for one and a half years and have gone through over 1,100 pounds of black oil sunflower seeds. During the winter we usually have about twenty feeders out at a time, including platform and ground feeders for Northern Cardinals and Dark-eyed Juncos.

As for shelter and nesting, we put out 8-10 Eastern Bluebird/Tree Swallow houses, 2 wren houses and 2 chickadee houses. Large areas of our property are left unmowed and much more cover/shelter will be available in the future when native trees and shrubs we have planted have put on some growth. In addition, we have added multiple flower beds filled with forbs (flowers) and grasses that are native to the upper Midwest.

What are some successes that you've seen since the improvements were made? (alternatively, "What are you most proud of, or excited to share about this site?")

Front yard habitat islands planted with native trees, shrubs, and flowers

Photo © Shane Marvelli
When I first walked around our property I could see there was potential for something special for wildlife, but the shear amount of ‘bad’ weeds and invasive plants was a bit overwhelming. Plants like Canada thistle, morning glory, quack grass, and European buckthorn had just taken over. Slowly we have removed large numbers of these plants and replaced them with natives of the upper Midwest.

Native wildflowers

Photo © Shane Marvelli

Trees and shrubs including hazelnut, serviceberry, ninebark, wild plum, black cherry, fragrant and smooth sumac, elderberry, viburnums, and various oaks and dogwoods. We have added over 50 species of tall and short grass prairie plants including asters, wild indigo, pale and purple coneflower, joe pye weed, royal catchfly, wild columbine, coreopsis, compass plant, cup plant and 5 species of milkweed (host plants for monarch butterflies).
We’ve also recently planted several species of native sedges, including long beaked sedge, bristly or bottlebrush sedge, and Pennsylvania sedge. The connection between native plants and wildlife is truly amazing. Douglas Tallamy’s book ”Bringing Nature Home – How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants” is a must read for all who wish to attract wildlife to their property.

Are there any tough decisions that had to be made regarding its management? How were they handled?

Certified monarch butterfly habitat

Photo © Shane Marvelli
We do our best to avoid using pesticides and herbicides of any kind. However, with huge populations of invasive plants and weeds throughout the property, I decided to use glyphosate to help control/eliminate them and help with the establishment of native trees, shrubs and plants/grasses. As the natives become established I am in hope that I can discontinue the use of glyphosate.

Putting up nest boxes brings the responsibility of monitoring them. The biggest problem we’ve faced is European House Sparrows (HOSP). I wish I did not have to use traps (I use Van Ert traps), however, I’ve seen first hand the damage HOSP can do to our native birds. We lost a Black-capped Chickadee a few years ago to a pair of HOSP. After killing the chickadee (in one of our nest boxes) they then built their nest right on top of the small bird. At our last home we did not see an Eastern Bluebird or Tree Swallow on our property until I had trapped HOSP for two years (63 birds). Our last summer there we had seven successful broods (five Eastern Bluebirds and two Tree Swallows). Here at our current home, HOSP have finally shown up in our second nesting season. They have even tried to take over one of the Cliff Swallow’s mud nests attached to our house.

To further help protect the smaller birds, I’ve built chickadee and wren nest boxes with entry holes of 1 1/8” and 1”, diameters too small for most HOSP to enter (bluebird/tree swallow boxes have a entry hole of 1 1/2”). All of our nest boxes are set up to install a trap in a matter of seconds. In my opinion, if we did not intervene there would be a 90 percent failure rate in the nest boxes on our property. I don’t believe the HOSP problem will ever go away, but by using traps and monitoring nest boxes we feel we can offer a safer habitat for native birds to raise their young.

Favorite bird on their property? Eastern Bluebird

Photo © Shane Marvelli

  • Nest Box Competition: House Sparrows, a nonnative species in the U.S., often compete aggressively with native cavity nesting birds, like bluebirds and chickadees, for nest boxes.