Creating a Balcony Wildlife Haven

Creating a Balcony Wildlife Haven

by Mary Boldan

In the last decade, interest in wildlife among both city dwellers and suburbanites has escalated. Today, millions of Americans are gardening in conjunction with nature, rather than against her, and you don't need a large garden to succeed. Even if you have a rootfop garden, or a small apartment balcony, using a little effort and bit of creativity can transform your balcony into a wildlife haven.

City gardens are extremely important for wildlife as they are often the only place that wildlife can survive in an otherwise barren urban desert. A number of birds have become accustomed to surviving in relatively hostile urban environment. By following a few simple guidelines, you can sit back and enjoy the rewards and surprises of nature.


Butterflies and hummingbirds will be attracted to windows box planters or containers of bright flowers. Hummingbirds like bright red and orange, whereas butterflies see purple, pink, and yellow. The following table lists a variety to ensure bloom from early spring until late fall:

Spring to Summer
MidSummer to Fall
All Summer
Columbine (perennial) Alyssum Cardinal flower (perennial)
Sweet William Bee Balm (perennial) Fuchsia
  Butterfly Bush (perennial) Petunia
  Cosmos Phlox
  Marigold Verbena
  Sunflowers (try the small varieties such as "Teddy Bear" which grow 4 to 5 inches across.)  

A trellis covered with flowering annual vines, such as morning glories and nasturtiums, provides birds both food and shelter. The brilliant orange, red flowers of the scarlet runnerbean supply nectar all summer long for hummingbirds and butterflies.

SwallowtailHerbs not only add zing to your cooking, but are a great value to wildlife. What's more, they are easy to grow in containers. Attract hummingbirds by planting Mexican bush sage, pineapple sage, and beebalm. Caterpillars of the Black and Anise Swallowtail make their home on and eat the leaves from the parsley family that include fennel, angelica, dill and chervil. The American Painted Lady desires borage. Peppermint attracts the pearly crescentspot. Mints. wild bergamot, and yarrow, attract the American Painted Lady, Anise Swallowtail, Gray Hairstreak, Monarch, and Red Admiral. Although dried herbs can look a bit ragged during the late fall and early winter, don't cut them down; they provide an important food to seed-eating birds, such as goldfinches, chickadees, and cardinals.

Tortoiseshell Butterfly on Butterfly BushYou can also grow several flowering and fruiting shrubs in sturdy, roomy tubs. Compactum viburnum (viburnum opulus 'Compactum') grows to about five feet. Given sufficient moisture, it will flower and produce berries. The lilac, blue, and pinkish-mauve flowers of the Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) is a magnet for butterflies.

Finally, do not use pesticides or herbicides on any plants (the "cide" means kill). Butterflies are also extremely sensitive to pesticides, especially BT (Bacillus Thuringiensus) which kills larvae.


Provide seed to birds using small tube feeders attached to a window with suction cups, or hanging feeders. Fill with hulled sunflowers seeds to avoid the mess of seed hulls.

During the winter months, don't forget to provide suet for woodpeckers and chickadees. You can purchase suet holders, or place the suet in a mesh bag.


If you want immediate activity, provide a birdbath. Fill any clean shallow container, such as a flowerpot base, or terra cotta pot, with plain tap water. Don't forget that wildlife needs water during the harsh winter months. Commercial birds bath heaters are available with draw very little electricity and will ensure a supply of open water all season. Never add any ingredients to the water, such as glycerine, to keep the water from freezing. Most products contain deadly chemicals, that remove the oil from the bird's feathers, causing them to freeze to death.

Keep birdbaths clean by disinfecting them occasionally with a solution of one part household bleach to nine parts water works well


If you can attach a structure to the walls of your residence, and are not more than 30 feet off the ground, you may want to attach a nest box, which may become home for house sparrows, chickadees, or barn swallows. Clean the box after each family leaves the nest.

Small evergreen shrubs, such as dwarf Arborvitae or dwarf pine in a large pot provides birds shelter.

There are a number of organizations that offer programs that can help you get started in creating a wildlife haven. Most programs teach the importance of environmental stewardships by providing homeowners with the basic guidelines for making their landscapes more hospitable to wildlife. The programs also will certify you backyard habitat once it meets the four basic needs of wildlife; water, shelter and cover, food, and nesting sites.

Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program

Since 1973, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has been certifying backyards through their Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program. This translates to 50,000 acres of which 992 acres are in Illinois. The program encourages everyone to plan their landscaping with the needs of wildlife in mind.

While the average habitat is between 1/3 acre and 1/2 acres, "No place is too small," said Tufts. "We have certified patios and balconies. The NWF evaluates properties on the basis what people have tried to do." Tufts emphasizes that creating areas attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds and small mammals does not have to complicated.

When your habitat is certified, a Certificate of Achievement is awarded and your site is entered in the National Register of Certified Habitat sites. Other benefits of Backyard Wildlife Habitat program include a press release for local media, a subscription to the quarterly program newsletter Habitats, your own copy of the new Beyond Your Backyard Community Action Guide, and opportunities to become trained and involved with the National Wildlife Federation as a Citizen Naturalist. NWF certification is earned by ensuring that a yard meets the basic needs of wildlife; food sources, water, shelter, and a place to raise young.

For more information on the Backyard Wildlife Habitat program, contact the NWF at 410-516-6583, or visit them at The Backyard Wildlife Habitat information packets are also available at Wild Birds Unlimited stores.

WindStar Wildlife Institute

The WindStar Wildlife Institute is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help people establish wildlife habit on their property. WindStar provides homeowners assistance through their American Wildlife Habitat Registry. Once your property is accepted for certification, you receive a personalized certificate. You are also issued an exclusive number for your wildlife habit and listed in the WindStar Wildlife Institute America Wildlife Habitat Registry where read about what other dedicated people are doing to enhance their wildlife habits. In addition, WindStar's web site lets you can sign-up for the free WindStar Wildlife Garden Weekly, and post a question at their Wildlife Habitat Forum.

For more information, write to WindStar Wildlife Institute, 3603 Fry Road, Jefferson, Maryland, 21755, or call them at (301, 834-9238. You can also reach them at

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