At least half of Florida's 62 terrestrial mammal
species might pass through a well-rounded backyard habitat. If you
live in an urban or suburban area, mammalian neighbors may include
the animals described below.
Don't count on attracting larger animals like
foxes, bobcats and deer unless extensive areas of suitable habitat
adjoin your neighborhood. Mammals cannot fly over poor habitat like
birds can, so if your property is surrounded by unsuitable habitat,
it may be difficult to attract them to your yard. Also, most
mammals are nocturnal and secretive, and they are very dependent
upon the cover you provide to protect them from predators. Although
most mammals will not be seen as often as birds, they can be just
as interesting and beneficial in your backyard habitat.
opossums live in all but the most urban Florida
habitats as long as they have access to food, water and daytime
cover. Sleeping sites and dens include hollow trees, underground
burrows, brush piles and even garages or abandoned buildings. These
nighttime foragers are opportunists and will eat fleshy fruits,
nuts, corn and other grains, small animals and human garbage.
Succulent green plants, woody blackberries and tree
bark are the primary food items of cottontail rabbits. Rabbits
prefer to live in fields of herbaceous plants and grasses
punctuated with dense, thorny low-growing hedges for cover. There's
no quicker way to increase cottontails than by building protective
Flying squirrels and gray
squirrels are especially abundant in wooded suburbs having
mature oaks and hickories, dense understories and a supply of
cavity trees. Nuts, seeds, berries, mushrooms and insects make up a
squirrel's diet, and they often nest in an abandoned woodpecker
hole or a bird nest box. If you notice Spanish moss protruding from
your bluebird or chickadee house, you probably have a flying
squirrel in residence. Gray squirrels are active during the day,
but flying squirrels are nocturnal animals. Both species, if
present, are readily attracted by peanut butter spread on a feeding
Florida has a number of native rodents that might
visit your backyard. The handsome cotton mouse and
old-field mouse are likely residents, or you may
even provide a home for the eastern woodrat. No
matter which species inhabit your land, you will seldom see them,
and will even have to look closely just to see their tunnels, nests
and droppings. Nevertheless, they are important members of a
backyard food chain, eating large quantities of insects and weed
seeds, and in turn, serving as a meal for owls and hawks. Although
they occasionally enter old buildings, these native rodents are not
disease-carrying nuisances like the introduced house mouse, black
rat and Norway rat.
The streamlined mole is
well-outfitted for life in the meandering underground runways it
digs in constant search for food. Moles are primarily insect
eaters; damage to bulbs and crop plants usually results from drying
of roots as the animal tunnels after earthworms and garden pests.
Their contributions to a healthy garden outweigh any incidental
damage they create. Shrews are tiny voracious
predators that consume up to half or more of their weight in
insects and invertebrates each day. They patrol small flattened
"runs" in the leaves and organic matter that cover the ground. They
are an asset to any garden.
You may be lucky enough to have the insect-eating
services of a bat or two, particularly if your backyard habitat
is near a pond or stream. About ten species of bats frequent
Florida's nighttime skies. Most occur in the northern half of the
state. All are gentle, harmless and very beneficial insectivores.
Some sleep alone in trees or Spanish moss, while others seek an
attic or abandoned building for colonial roosting. You might be
able to attract them by providing artificial roost boxes.
Managing for Mammals in Your Yard
- Give special protection to cavity trees on your land. If you
have few or none, nest boxes can substitute for natural
- Plant native trees with edible fruits and nuts, such as
mulberry, wild cherry, beech, pine and oak.
- Protect nearby streams, swamps and marshes from destruction and
- Create maximum habitat diversity and edges in your backyard
- Provide ample low cover to supply protective shelter from
predators (including dogs and cats) and the elements.
- If vegetative cover is scarce, build a brush pile.
Brush Pile Construction
Bottom half of brush pile construction
To build your own brush pile, first lay four logs
(6 feet long and 4 to 8 inches in diameter) parallel to one another
about 8 to 12 inches apart on the ground. Then place four more logs
of the same size across and perpendicular to the first four poles.
These will keep "tunnels" open under the pile. Next add brush:
larger limbs first, then smaller branches, until you've created a
structure 4 to 6 feet in height and diameter. Sticks and branches
can then be continually added to the top as the pile rots at the
bottom, providing food for an abundance of earthworms and other
insects, enriching the soil and reducing the need for trash
collection. If you want to slow down the decomposition process,
pile the brush up off the ground on cement blocks.
Top half of brush pile construction