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Wildlife plantings

Wildlife plantings provide areas for nesting, feeding, perching, singing and breeding for many birds and other animals. They also provide shelter from severe weather and protection from predators. By planting a variety of tree and shrub species, you can attract a greater diversity of wildlife.

Habitat can be defined as the kind of place where a living organism (e.g. bird, fish, mammal, plant) lives. All species need food, water, shelter (cover) and space to survive. Wildlife plantings can contribute food and a secure habitat for a diverse wildlife community, including game and other birds and animals.

Food supplies energy and nutrients. Each wildlife species has its own needs and these will change from season to season and throughout their life cycle. Natural food sources available from trees and shrubs include flower nectar, fruits, nuts, acorns, seeds, tree sap and browse (i.e. twigs and buds). Insects and other invertebrates that are attracted to trees and shrubs provide food for many birds especially during nesting and rearing young.

Alternate food sources available near the wildlife planting are also important. Leave small plots of standing grain or retain areas of native vegetation near the planting site to improve the overall habitat quality. Additional food is most important during winter when energy needs of wildlife are greatest and other food sources may be scarce.

Shelter is one of the most important components that trees and shrubs contribute to wildlife habitat. Planting trees and shrubs can provide excellent refuge from predators, offer protection from inclement weather and create travel corridors to allow safe movement between habitat areas.

Shelter from wind is critical for wildlife survival especially in winter. Wildlife species are under less stress, maintain warmth and feed energy requirements are lower when in a protected area. Wildlife plantings with dense branching also provide ideal nesting spots for a wide variety of birds and other wildlife that nest under the cover of trees.


There is evidence that suggest creating a habitat isolated from natural areas can create a predator trap. A small linear habitat area can be preyed on very effectively. In some cases, entire local populations have been eliminated through predation after being attracted to these sites. Locate wildlife plantings in areas that already have some natural habitat present. They can be used to connect native forested areas, create travel corridors and to enhance or enlarge the existing habitat. As a general rule, a wildlife planting should be no smaller than one hectare.


Multi-row shelterbelts can be designed and established to provide superior wind reductions and to create better habitat for wildlife. A wildlife shelterbelt should have three or more rows to allow for a wide mixture of tree and shrub species. This increases the variety of habitats which increases the diversity of wildlife that can be supported.

Placement within landscape

The arrangement of elements within the larger landscape determines the habitat value for different wildlife species. Food, cover and water located in the same vicinity creates optimal habitat. If planning to attract specific wildlife, consider their normal range of mobility when determining the placement and distance between these habitat elements.

Diversity of vegetation

Combine a variety of coniferous and deciduous trees and shrubs. Include herbaceous vegetation to extend flowering and fruiting dates over the growing season. Use native plants whenever possible. They usually provide better habitat and are adapted to local growing conditions.

Vertical structure

Multiple vegetation layers allow an assortment of wildlife to utilize the same area. Each tier creates distinct niches. Five or more layers are optimal and include the canopy, understory, shrub layer, herbaceous layer, and the floor.

Horizontal structure

Arrange vegetation to provide the greatest practical width and create a smooth transition from the wildlife habitat. Incorporate clump plantings under a tree canopy or along the edge to improve horizontal structure. Minimize straight lines in the design.

Travel lanes

Many wildlife species need a minimum amount of a particular habitat type. Too small an area will not be used. Vegetation can be used to connect several small isolated areas within a landscape, thus making it more viable and increasing the usable space for wildlife.

Create contour plantings that follow natural waterways, creeks and the topography of the land to provide more edge appeal for wildlife. This produces pockets where wildlife prefer to feed, nest and seek refuge from predators (including man). Gently curving tree rows creates more edge and attracts more wildlife to the planting.

Travel corridors provide safe routes from one habitat area to another. Species such as pheasants, songbirds, squirrels, rabbits and deer use these as feed plots and travel routes. Design travel corridors with three or more rows. If the limiting factor is food use fruit bearing shrubs; if it is shelter and winter protection, then use conifers. If both limiting factors are present use combinations of shrubs and conifers but locate the tall species in the center rows.

Wider travel corridors (15 - 30 m) are better than narrow. Even though wildlife will use narrow corridors, predators find their prey more easily in this environment.

Species selection

There are several points to consider when selecting tree and shrubs species for your habitat planting. As with any planting, species selection depends on the site, growing conditions and the wildlife species you want to manage. Choice of trees and shrubs can influence the types of birds and other animals living there. Wildlife habitat that provides food, nesting and shelter requires a variety of trees, shrubs and other plants.

When selecting plant species, it is important to use a variety of trees and shrubs to minimize the likelihood of the planting dying due to extreme periods of drought, flooding or from disease and insect outbreaks.

Another consideration in species selection is to think about the wildlife needs during each season. The longer the flowering period and seed and fruit availability, the better. Fall, winter and early spring sources of food are important for survival. Late spring and summer food supplies are especially important to supply the energy needed for reproduction, growth, and development and for building up energy stores (e.g. fats for animals; starches for plants) for the dormant season.

Select a wide variety of dense, fruit-bearing shrubs to create a season-long food supply. Cover is always important during nesting or when shelter from adverse weather conditions, especially during winter, is required. Two or more rows of evergreens and shrubs with dense foliage close to ground are recommended to create thermal cover and reduce winds, which in turn reduces wind chill factor.

An illustration of a nine row shelterbelt, featuring trees and shrubs. The centre row is the tallest species, flanked on either side by increasingly smaller species.
Description - Wildlife plantings

Row 1, 9 – snowberry, dogwood, rose
Row 2, 8 – buffaloberry, sea buckthorn, red elder, pincherry
Row 3, 7 – chokecherry hawthorn siberian crab
Row 4, 6 – Manitoba maple, bur oak, willow, green ash
Row 5 – scots pine, white spruce, Colorado spruce


Follow the recommendations for within row spacing of the trees and shrubs as a guide for your wildlife habitat planting. Some modifications to within-row spacing may be required especially if a mixture of shrubs, tall deciduous and coniferous species are planted in the same row. The spacing between rows may vary depending on the goals and surrounding habitat conditions.

Wide spacing between rows (4.0-6.0 metres (m)) reduces competition between plants, delays crown closure, permits more sunlight penetration and allows for the planting of annual and perennial forbs. Narrower row spacing (2.0-4.0 m) on the other hand may better suit the wildlife's habitat needs, providing an early canopy closure, better protection for nesting and thick winter cover.

A guide for wildlife habitat planting
Species Wildlife Value Wildlife Species
Choke Cherry Browse, cover, food, winter food Butterflies, mammals, songbirds, upland game birds
Hawthorn Browse, cover, food, nesting, winter food Bees, songbirds, upland game birds, shrikes, thrashers, doves
Hedge Rose Browse, cover, food, nesting, thermal cover, winter food Butterflies, game animals, mammals, songbirds, upland game birds
Red Elder Browse, cover, food, nesting, winter food Butterflies, game animals, mammals, songbirds, upland game birds
Red-osier Dogwood Browse, cover, food, winter food Butterflies, game animals, mammals, songbirds, upland game birds
Sea Buckthorn Browse, cover, nesting, winter food Game animals, songbirds, upland game birds
Silver Buffaloberry Browse, cover, food, perching, winter food Antelope, upland game birds, shrikes, thrashers
Snowberry Browse, cover, food, nesting, thermal cover, winter food Game animals, mammals, bees, butterflies, songbirds, upland game birds
Villosa Lilac Cover, nesting, perching Songbirds, sparrows, juncos
Bur Oak Browse, cover, food, nesting, winter food Butterflies, game animals, mammals, upland game birds, jays, flickers
Cottonwood Browse, nesting, perching Game animals, raptors
Green Ash Cover, food, nesting, perching All birds (crossbills, grosbeaks)
Hybrid Poplar Browse, nesting, perching Game animals, raptors
Manitoba Maple Cover, food, nesting, perching All birds
Pincherry Browse, food, winter food Songbirds, mammals
Siberian Crabapple Browse, cover, food, nesting, winter food Bees, butterflies, game animals, mammals, songbirds, upland game birds, orioles
Trembling Aspen Browse, cover, food, nesting, winter food Game animals
Acute Willow Browse Game animals
Peachleaf Willow Browse Game animals
Silverleaf Willow Browse Game animals
Siberian Larch Nesting, perching Birds
Scots Pine Nesting, perching, thermal cover Birds
Colorado Spruce Thermal cover, winter food Crossbills, grosbeaks
White Spruce Thermal cover, winter food Crossbills, grosbeaks
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