Within this guide, you will find several sections on impactful activities and changes you can make on and around your property to help support wildlife. You can use the below buttons to navigate to these sections of the guide.
The most impactful way to benefit wildlife starts at your shoreland by creating or maintaining connected natural habitats as "vegetation corridors". Vegetation corridors are thick, connected areas of native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants that help to:
- Provide travelling corridors, breeding grounds (especially for loons and waterfowl), refuge, hunting and foraging habitat for wildlife
- Prevent erosion and mitigate property damage from flooding by holding the soil together against wave, wind, and rain action, and by acting as a sponge when excess water is present, if maintained along the riparian zone
- Improve water quality by providing shade along the shoreline
- Reduce erosion and turbidity (by up to 75%), and prevent nutrient and contaminant runoff from pesticides, fertilizers, septic leachate, and pet waste (by up to 50% for chemicals and 60% for some bacteria)
- Fight against the establishment of invasive species which prefer disturbed, open areas such as Phragmites, as well as nuisance species such as geese
- Provide quality of life and aesthetic appeal - natural vegetation corridors can help provide privacy, and protection from the elements, and help you feel more in touch with nature!
To be effective at the shore, vegetation corridors should be a minimum of 30 m wide - and should be included on other areas of your property as well. This is the minimum requirement to provide bank stability, maintain benthic communities, provide wildlife habitat, and reduce the flow of sediment, contaminants, and nutrients into the water. However, corridor widths may need to be larger depending on the soil type (e.g. clay-dominated soils require larger corridors), the steepness of slope, the land use intensity and wildlife present (e.g. some birds and mammals require 100 - 200 m corridors). As such, shoreland vegetation corridors should be a minimum of 30 m wide, but up to 200 m wide, if possible. The bigger the buffer, the better the buffer!
Of course, the ideal vegetation corridor should allow water access and lake views while still functioning to support water quality and wildlife. For example, instead of converting your entire waterfront property into one long desolate beach or park, consider creating a meandering path down to the water with a small angled opening to access docks and for swimming. The path, if including stairs, can be raised to allow vegetation growth underneath, or permeable to allow water infiltration and reduce runoff. In addition, consider pruning trees and bushes to increase viewing capacity, instead of uprooting or cutting them down which only removes habitat and destabilizes the soil.
When re-naturalizing and planting your vegetation corridor, it is a good idea to have a look at the diversity of native vegetation that already exists in your area and aim to mimic those native plants on your own property. A good mixture of native aquatic plants and upland plants, shrubs, and trees should be planted throughout the corridor. Most local nurseries can assist you in choosing native varieties that are common to your area. In addition, you can attend a Design Your Own Shoreline Garden workshop to get an assisted start on your shoreland designs or ask about getting a Natural Edge site visit to help you with your project. We can assist you with finding native flowers and plants that will stabilize your shoreland naturally as well as attract pollinators and birds! The Watersheds Canada Plant Guide and the Watersheds Canada's Wildflower Guide are also great resources for the do-it-yourselfers out there.
Habitat for Pollinators
Pollinators such as birds, bees and butterflies thrive in natural shoreland zones. Having pollinators visit your property is not only beneficial for maintaining a healthy shoreland, but it also offers tranquil sights and sounds right in your backyard. A variety of flowering aquatic plants, such as water lilies and Pickerelweed, as well as terrestrial flowers and shrubs, such as Smooth Wild Rose, Winterberry, Nannyberry, Blue Vervain, Common Milkweed, Butterfly Milkweed, and Common Thistle can provide food and habitat for numerous species of pollinators. Pollinators are deterred by night lighting, pesticides, or when non-native plants are used. The table to the left (by Maria MacRae at the Canadian Wildlife Federation) is a great starter guide.
For a more detailed list of native plants that attract pollinators, refer to the Shoreline Garden Plant List on The Land Between website. You can also consider taking the following additional actions on your own property to enhance habitat for pollinators:
- Remove invasive plants since they outcompete our native plants that provide the best food source for pollinators
- Prune trees and shrubs where needed (instead of uprooting them) to provide sunlight for pollination plants
- Cluster groupings of the same pollinator plants together to better attract pollinators and provide for more efficient foraging
- Plant at least 3 flowering species of plants that flower in each season to ensure pollinators have a food source for their entire active season
- Leave patches of bare and undisturbed soil for ground-nesting bees
- Plant woody shrubs and incorporate (or don’t remove) downed logs to provide nesting habitat for cavity-nesting bees
- Reduce mowing of natural wildflower-established areas
- Limit the use of pesticides and herbicides, use environmentally friendly options and only apply chemicals outside of pollinator foraging hours (before 9 am and after 3 pm)
- Use manual or mechanical means to weed instead of herbicides, or incorporate Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices
- Reduce night lighting to only areas needed and choose sensors or covered lights and amber over LED lights
Habitat for Fish, Turtles & Frogs
Your shoreland serves as a crucial link between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and is home to a variety of animals that frequent both of these habitats, such as turtles and frogs. Even fish, which are entirely aquatic, rely on the shoreland to provide hiding spots, shade areas, and food in the form of organic matter and insects. A strong and healthy natural connection between the aquatic and terrestrial habitats is not only necessary to sustain these animals, but it also affords us with a variety of direct and indirect benefits. For example, did you know that frogs and toads eat thousands of unwanted garden bugs every summer - including mosquitos, slugs, grubs, beetles, Gypsy moths, sowbugs, centipedes, millipedes, ants and earwigs? Or that turtles provide clean waters to swim in by eating dead and decaying matter in our lakes? Even fish are more than just a tasty meal - shoreland species like Bass and Bluegill eat mosquito larvae, helping to reduce pesky bugs right in our own backyards! So how can we help ensure our shorelands provide habitat for these helpful animals? The following list provides a variety of measures that can be taken to support and attract fish, frogs and turtles to the shoreland:
- Re-naturalize your shoreland (remove hard surfaces like retaining walls) and instead plant and maintain a minimum 30 m wide corridor of native plants including dogwoods, willows, Meadowsweet, Joe-pye Weed, and Swamp Milkweed (which is also great for butterflies). Even a 10-15 m wide buffer along the shoreline is better than nothing if you are limited in space. The overhanging branches will provide shade and shelter for fish, frogs and turtles, and the foliage will provide a source of food as insects fall into the water to be eaten. In addition, planting and/or protecting aquatic vegetation is beneficial for providing food and habitat for turtles and fish who feed on a large variety of aquatic plants, as well as for aquatic invertebrates, fish, turtles and frogs that live amongst these plants.
- Do not remove rocks and/or fallen or washed-up logs from the shoreland - these are prime basking areas for turtles, not to mention great hiding spots for frogs and fish! Adding extra basking areas, such as partially submerged rocks, logs and boulders is also helpful, but make sure that the added features are free from chemicals or invasive species (avoid moving in features from other areas).
- Opt for floating or cantilever docks since they are the least disruptive to the environment and fish habitat on the lake bottom. Refer to the The Dock Primer for more information on choosing a dock.
- Avoid using lake bubblers since they disrupt conditions for hibernating turtles and fisheries in general. Bubblers encourage mixing of lake water, which can push warm water downward and deplete oxygen where turtles are hibernating, as well as potentially awake them from hibernation. Bubblers also prevent lakes from fully freezing over, disrupting winter sports such as ice hockey or ice fishing.
- Avoid walking or driving along sandy shorelands as these are prime nesting areas for turtles and excellent nursery grounds for young frogs and toads. Also try to avoid filling in shores with earth and other material since this disrupts spawning habitat for fish, nesting areas for turtles and nursery grounds for frogs.
- Maintain a slower speed (under 10 km/h) while boating close to the shore to help reduce disturbance to turtle, fish and amphibian habitat.
- Avoid using fertilizers or pesticides on your property to avoid polluting the water where turtles, frogs, fish and other aquatic organisms live. Also, make sure no large trees are growing near your septic tank to avoid root damage and potential leaking of harmful nutrients and contaminants into the soil and lake water. For more information on how to manage nutrients, refer to the “Managing Nutrients in Lakes” section.
- If you know of a turtle nesting area in your backyard, consider putting up a sign near it or blocking off that area for recreational use, as well as directing trails away from it. You can also create your own nest protector and install it on your property, or contact us to provide a nest protector for you!
You can restore or create habitats for turtles by ponding water in shallow areas, planting native plant species, and by adding sandy and gravelly material in adjacent areas on south facing slopes for nests. However, it is important to invite in an expert before you alter the natural features and grading on your property. You can contact The Land Between for a site visit and to help you with a habitat stewardship plan to identify options for conservation.
Habitat for Ducks & Songbirds
If you have a lakeside property, you probably look forward to hearing the call of a loon gliding along the calm waters at night, or the rattle of a Belted Kingfisher perched high up in a tree. For some, it may even be the sight of a family of ducks waddling along the shoreland that gives you a sense of happiness. But birds aren’t just amazing creatures for their natural beauty and auditory enjoyment. They also help pollinate plants and crops for human consumption, control pests by eating 400-500 million insects per year, clean up animal carcasses that carry diseases, spread seeds through their droppings to help establish plants in barren areas, and even fertilize our soils with their poop (Nyffeler et al., 2018)! We can help birds in our own backyards by ensuring our shorelands are kept natural and healthy so that they provide food, shelter and nesting sites. There are many specific improvements that we can make for ducks and songbirds on our properties, including the following:
- Plant berry bushes, such as Nannyberry, Elderberry, Dogwood, Winterberry, Chokecherry and Smooth Wild Rose along the shore to provide food for birds (and mammals) throughout the fall and winter. Sunflowers and Coneflowers are also great seed sources.
- Leave dead, sturdy trees and woody debris in place - large trees with hollow cavities offer shelter, nesting, feeding and hibernation opportunities for over 50 species of birds, including owls, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees, as well other animals during the winter.
- Keep your pets (mainly cats) inside and away from wild birds.
- Reduce night lighting, even on your dock, as this interferes with a bird’s natural behaviour and ability to use the stars for migration. You can also use motion-sensor lights, red-coloured lights and/or cover the sides of lights to direct the light downward instead of up into the night sky. Avoid using LEDs which are very bright and disruptive.
- Install anti-collision bird stickers on the outside surface of your windows.
- Set up feeders to provide additional food sources for birds, especially during the winter. Aim to use nectar and sweet oranges in the spring, no-melt suet and species-specific seed mixes targeted to the birds in your area in the summer, and fatty suet in the winter. Don’t forget to wash and disinfect your feeders with diluted bleach solution ideally in between each refill to avoid the spread of diseases and bacteria.
- Build and/or buy birdhouses to set up on your property. Make sure to use untreated wood, a sloped and overhanging roof, a raised floor with ¼ inch drainage holes, and a hinged roof for easy cleaning. In addition, the size of the entry hole should be appropriate for the species of bird you are aiming to attract. See the Watersheds Canada Habitat Creation Manual for more information on building birdhouses.
Habitat for Bats
Bats are cute and fuzzy and they keep our environment pest-free! Every night they eat their own body weight in insects, providing approximately $53 billion in nontoxic pest control around the world (Boyles, 2011). They are also great pollinators! However, bat populations are actively declining due to habitat loss and an increasing prevalence of a deadly fungus called white-nose syndrome (WNS) which affects their nose, ears and wings. This disease causes bats to awake from hibernation early when there isn’t enough food yet to sustain them in the colder temperatures. Added to this is the fact that bats only produce one pup per year and thus it is harder for them to regenerate their populations compared to other species, such as rodents, which tend to have multiple offspring per year.
You can help bat populations recover by refraining from removing dead, sturdy standing trees on your property and by installing bat boxes to provide safe places for mothers to raise their young. You can either purchase a pre-constructed bat box from The Land Between (the proceeds go directly to conservation) or you can make your own! Make sure you install your bat box 15 - 20 feet high in an area that has some sun exposure throughout the day to keep the box warm (you can even paint the box a dark colour with a water-based, non-toxic latex paint) and that there are no branches or other objects in front that would interfere with flying. A bat box installed on a waterfront property is prime real estate for a bat because a lake provides a clean drinking source and excellent flying space for catching copious amounts of bugs at night. This combination of habitat elements paired with a variety of native plants, shrubs and trees to attract beneficial insects makes for a bat paradise!
Boating can alter and degrade habitats used by fish, turtles, frogs and shorebirds at a lake. Submerged motors and recreational water-vehicles churn waters, mixing warm water at the surface deeper into the lake, much like stirring a bath. Trout especially, but even Walleye cannot survive in waters above certain temperatures. This is because at higher temperatures, water contains less dissolved oxygen, and fish can become stressed or will die as a result. Boat propellers also stir up sediment and destroy aquatic vegetation by cutting submerged and emergent plants, as well as spreading invasive species. In effect, boats reduce available habitat for fish populations in a lake, meaning fish have a smaller area to forage for food and thus must compete more heavily for food sources. Increasing warm water areas and disturbed habitats also provide more suitable conditions for competing species such as Rock Bass and invasive species such as Eurasian Watermilfoil.
Boating at high speeds in areas where wakes will reach shores or shallows can result in more erosion at the shore from wave washing, causing soils to move into shallows and get suspended in the water column. Along with these sediments comes an increase in available phosphorus, which is a precursor nutrient to algal blooms, as well as settling out of particles on spawning areas, covering eggs and hatchlings.
It is important to note that a day out on the lake can still be fun while at the same time protecting shorelands and water quality. All you have to do is reduce your speed to under 10 km/h (the less the better) within 30 m of a shore, shallow area, loon nesting area and/or spawning area. If you are in the market for a boat, it is a good idea to purchase a four-stroke engine rather than a two-stroke since they are much cleaner and more fuel-efficient. In addition, lifting your motor up as much as you can in shallow areas will help to reduce damage to aquatic vegetation and vital fish and amphibian nurseries. Following all of these suggestions will help mitigate disturbance to shoreland habitats (including where many waterfowl nest) and reduce erosion and turbidity (cloudiness) which contribute to poor water quality and degradation of fish habitat.
Everyone enjoys a good light show when celebrating holidays and long weekends, but did you know that loud fireworks can have harmful effects on wildlife and the surrounding environment? Research studies show that the loud sounds of fireworks can cause a great amount of fear, stress and anxiety in wild animals (not to mention the fire hazard and chemical and mineral pollutants that are given off). Animals such as birds and other small mammals are often reported abandoning their nests, leaving their defenceless babies behind due to the trauma that they experience. The panic of the ordeal can cause disorientation, decreasing the ability for wildlife to locate their homes. But it is not just fireworks that contribute to noise pollution - motorized vehicles, watercraft and human disturbance also play a part. Research has shown that various forms of human-generated noise can have negative impacts on the communication, distribution, foraging, reproduction and even homeostasis (ability of an animal to maintain a stable internal temperature) of a range of species, including amphibians, arthropods, birds, fish, mammals, molluscs and reptilians. For example, turtles have been reported to bask less when disturbed by loud boat motors, causing them to drop their body temperatures and get cold. In addition, bats that use echolocation (the reflection of sound) to fly and hunt for insects are unable to do so when human-generated noise interferes.
There are numerous ways to minimize the dangers of noise pollution to wildlife and the environment:
- Limit the speed of your boat or watercraft to reduce noise, especially near shorelands
- Use fireworks that produce less noise during combustion - ask your fireworks salesperson for these wildlife-friendly versions
- Remove bird feeders prior to lighting fireworks to discourage birds from being nearby during the light show
- Wait until well after dusk to ignite fireworks since late evening is prime feeding time for many animals, especially deer
- Avoid making loud noises near known nesting areas, birdhouses, or other sheltered areas where wildlife might be living
- Ensure that the decibels given off by your radio and other sources are below levels set out by local by-laws - sound bounces off water and travels extremely well over lakes to neighbouring properties
It is important to remember that your waterfront property can be enjoyed responsibly while keeping the environment and local wildlife safe from harm caused by excessive noise.
Unlike humans, plants and animals do not have the luxury of going inside, closing the blinds and turning off the lights when it’s time to go to sleep. Areas, where outdoor lights shine all night long, can have drastic effects on the health and survival of wildlife species because artificial night lighting interferes with the natural cycle of day and night. This cycle sends signals to all living things around the world, telling them when to eat, sleep, mate, and migrate. Any change to this regular pattern of light and dark as a result of light pollution can cause confusion, disorientation, and even death.
Some animals may be drawn or attracted to an area with artificial lighting, which may expose them to potential predators, steer them off their natural migration routes, or even cause their death (like a moth to a flame). For example, migratory birds which use stars to navigate migration routes may be confused and disoriented by bright lights at night, especially since their eyes are ten times more sensitive to light than humans. This can cause them to circle around an area of light until they die of starvation or collide with the light source. Aside from this, artificial lights at night also attract bugs, including pesky mosquitoes that primarily come out at dusk.
Night lighting can also scare or repel animals away from an area. Many people use large flood lights on their lakefront properties to deter seemingly scary wildlife such as bears. However, this has the effect of making dark areas darker, thus making it more difficult to spot potential predators. In addition, it essentially eliminates habitat for all kinds of animals by cutting off habitat corridors and transforming otherwise suitable habitat into unsuitable habitat. For example, some species of bats will stay away from well-lit areas to avoid predators while other bat species will use lit areas to hunt because insects are often found in high numbers in these areas. As a result, species of bats that use well-lit areas will survive while other bat species will decline.
Lastly, artificial lighting at night can trick some animals into thinking it’s still day time. This has a strong effect on most mammals across the world who rely on darkness to survive – to find food, shelter, and mates, or for other animals who need shelter to hide from predators. The disruption causes confusion, which disrupts our sleeping states and patterns. Plants also have natural cycles, influenced by the regular pattern of light and darkness. Many plants use the length of the day to signal flowering, and to determine when to go into dormancy for the winter. But light pollution can trick plants into thinking that the days are longer than they actually are, throwing the timing of many of these processes out of whack. For example, studies have found that trees growing near street lights tend to hold onto their leaves longer, thus delaying entering into dormancy and making them more susceptible to damage from frost and cold. Light pollution can also cause plants to bloom earlier than they normally would, meaning flowers are out before their pollinators and when frost damage is a higher risk.
Therefore, on behalf of the birds, bees, bats, and trees, there are many simple, easy and effective changes that we can make to limit the impacts of night lighting. The best option is to turn off outdoor lights at night altogether. However, if you still prefer to have lights on your property at night, you can reduce its impacts by:
- Aiming lights downward towards the ground and not at the night sky
- Capping or shielding your lights to reduce their radius of influence
- Reducing the use of your lights by only turning them on when needed, by using them only in areas that are needed and/or by installing motion sensors
- Choosing low wattage bulbs, non-LEDs, and amber or red lights since the wavelengths produced by this colour of light are dimmer to nocturnal animals which primarily use rod vision
- Abiding by local bylaws regarding night lighting
Additional Reading & Resources
About Lighting Pollution, by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
A Shoreline Owner’s Guide to Lakeland Living, produced by the Lakeland Alliance
Boyles, C. (2011). Conservation. Economic importance of bats in agriculture. Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science), 332(6025), 41–42. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1201366
Creating a Wildlife-Friendly Shoreline, written by Maria MacRae at the Canadian Wildlife Federation
Creating Habitat, produced by the Toronto and Region Conservation
Does Night Lighting Harm Trees?, by the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University
Improving Turtle Habitat, by the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre
Kunc, S. (2019). The effects of anthropogenic noise on animals: a meta-analysis. Biology Letters (2005), 15(11), 20190649–20190649. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2019.0649
Light Pollution Can Harm Wildlife, produced by the International Dark-Sky Association
Nyffeler, M., Sekercioglu, C. & Whelan, C. (2018). Insectivorous birds consume an estimated 400–500 million tons of prey annually. The Science of Nature. 105. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-018-1571-z
Ontario Biodiversity Council. 2011. Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy, 2011: Renewing Our Commitment to Protecting What Sustains Us. Ontario Biodiversity Council, Peterborough, ON.
O’Toole, A., Hanson, K., & Cooke, S. (2009). The Effect of Shoreline Recreational Angling Activities on Aquatic and Riparian Habitat Within an Urban Environment: Implications for Conservation and Management. Environmental Management, 44(2), 324–334. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-009-9299-3
Reid, C. (2018). Emerging threats and persistent conservation challenges for freshwater biodiversity. Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 94(3), 849–873. https://doi.org/10.1111/brv.12480
Shoreline Habitat Creation Manual, produced by Watersheds Canada
Shoreline Vegetative Buffers, produced by the Muskoka Watershed Council
Strayer, D., & Findlay, S. (2010). Ecology of freshwater shore zones. Aquatic Sciences, 72(2), 127–163. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00027-010-0128-9
Technical Guide for Enhancing, Managing and Restoring Pollinator Habitat Along Ontario’s Roadsides, produced by Pollinator Partnership Canada
The Shore Primer: A Cottager’s Guide to a Healthy Waterfront, produced by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in association with Cottage Life
The Muskoka Watershed Report Card, produced by the Muskoka Watershed Council
The Water’s Edge: Helping fish and wildlife on your lakeshore property, produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment
50 Bird Species and the Sounds They Make, by Kimberly Hart at the Nature Conservancy of Canada