Cover: Providing Shelter in Your Backyard Habitat

Male House Sparrow (Passer domesticus). Photo by Donna L. Long
Male House Sparrow (Passer domesticus). Photo by Donna L. Long

Animals need cover. The small prey animals need a place to hide. You may have a feature that already serves that purpose. Or there may
be a row of shrubs that may benefit from adding more plants.

Some of the different types of shelter and place to hide that you can provide include:

  • shrubs and trees (especially evergreens)
  • thickets and hedgerows
  • grasslands
  • water
  • cavities
  • log and brush piles
  • rock piles and walls
  • house for animals such as bats and amphibians

I highly recommend a thicket. It provides shelter and a place to escape
hunting hawks.

I have a thicket at the end of my city backyard. The bird feeders at located here. The birds are hopping around Pokeweed stalks, rhododendron bush. I trim the scraggly stalks to keep it neat. In summer there is luxurious growth, shade and hiding places.

A few weeks ago I watched a Sharp-Shinned Hawk hunt in the thicket at
the end of my backyard habitat. The House Sparrows were frantic as the
thicket provided their only cover. I couldn’t tell if the hawk was successful or not. But, I am sure many sparrows were glad the thicket was there.

The plants in my thicket include Baptista australia (butterfly host plant), Rosa Virginia native rose with plenty of rose hips), Joe-pye weed (butterfly nectar plant )and Daisies ( a favorite of mine and many bees).

Sometimes there are 25 or more birds perched on the stalks in the
thicket, waiting their turn at the feeders. As they are waiting they eat the dark purple berries off the Pokeweed plant.

My thicket sounds great but I didn’t plan it. At first I called it a “mess” but then realized how much the birds used it. Then I bestowed dignity but naming it a “thicket” and that it was part of my backyard habitat management plan.

House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) in my garden. Photo by Donna Lo. Long.
House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) in my garden. Photo by Donna Lo. Long.









The National Wildlife Federation Attracting Birds, Butterflies & Backyard Wildlife suggests the following:

  • one evergreen
  • two berry-producing plants
  • and one thorny species

These plants can be trees or shrubs. Shrubs are great plants for a thicket. You can strengthen an existing shrubby area or create new ones. Trees add nesting sites as places for birds to raise young.

Key points in providing cover

  • Plant native species indigenous to your ecosystem
  • Allow the plants to take their natural shapes
  • Lightly trimming them to
    keep things neat is fine
  • Tightly clipped and manicured shrubs are
    far less useful for animals.
  • Mix the heights
  • Plant both evergreen and deciduous.
  • Choose a variety of fruit, nectar or seed
  • Plant plants densely together and allow for growth
  • Use a shrub row to connect two or more open areas
  • Place bird baths and feeders 10 – 12 feet away from, if
    possible, to eliminate hiding place for cats
  • Planting a along a property line creates a living fence
  • Plant native flower and grasses in front of the thicket to
    add more habitat and to finish the look

Good Plants to Choose

If you live in a natural desert out west, choose desert plants. Ecology guides that describe an area’s ecosystem are always helpful. When walking through natural places, parks and refugees, see what grows naturally. Natural parks and preserves often have list of plants and the staff can offer suggestions.

You may want to focus on plants and trees for butterflies, birds or insects. There are many possibilities. And plants can be moved if your change your mind.

More Backyard Habitat Posts

What is a Naturalists Garden or Backyard Habitat?

Water in Your Backyard Habitat

Places to Raise Young & Creating Your Backyard Habitat

Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Pollinators

Attracting Birds with Fruit Trees and Berry Plants




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