“Go native” is the best advice for choosing trees with the aim of attracting wildlife to your yard and helping them to thrive. Native trees have existed in the area since before humans, and are adapted to local conditions. They need little or no water in addition to what falls naturally, are usually adequately nourished by the native soil, naturally resistant to pests, and are the ideal providers of food and shelter for native wildlife.
Before thinking of planting new trees, take stock of what is already in your yard. A qualified or certified arborist can quickly perform this assessment for you and make recommendations for immediate and long term planting with wildlife in mind. An arborist can help you make the most of your wildlife garden, optimizing tree and plant placement. Don’t rule out dead or dying trees (snags) and fallen logs and branches. They are valuable as food and shelter for many kinds of wildlife. An arborist’s advice is key for determining which dead trees to leave in your wildlife habitat, which ones can be modified, and which ones should be removed.
Residents of Vancouver are fortunate to have plenty of resources to go to for help with their wildlife habitat projects. Some are free, like the city of Vancouver’s Backyard Wildlife Garden where you can “take a self-paced tour through the demonstration garden to see how bringing nature’s best into your own backyard can eliminate the use of synthetic pesticides, increase conservation, enhance wildlife habitat, and contribute to the sustainability and health of our community.”
Vancouver’s TREEFUND program offers rebates to city residents for planting certain trees within the city limits. The city of Vancouver provides a list of approved tree species for the program, containing many of the trees found on the list of wildlife favorites below, plus about a hundred others which also support our local critters.
Popular trees native to the Vancouver area and the wildlife they attract:
Douglas Fir is rapid growing, up to 300 feet. Douglas squirrels and other rodents, crossbills, pine siskins and other birds eat the seeds inside the cones. Blue grouse eat the needles and male cones while white-tailed deer eat the foliage and twigs in the winter.
Western Red Cedar grows to 120-150 feet and can be planted singly or in groves. It is a tough, hardy evergreen that offers a rich crop of berry-like cones for birds from early summer through winter. It gives several animal species places to rest, roost and nest, as well as year-round cover from predators and bad weather. Pine siskins eat the seeds. Deer and elk eat the foliage and twigs. Small mammals use cavities for dens; birds use cavities for nests.
Western Hemlock grows 150-195 feet, with fine textured, fern-like foliage. Hemlock can be grown singly or in groups, providing a screen for wildlife cover. Hemlocks are favorite nesting trees for many birds. Pine siskins, crossbills, chickadees and deer mice eat the seeds. Porcupines, Douglas squirrels and other mammals eat the bark. Deer and elk eat the foliage and twigs.
Pacific Madrone (Madrona) is a broadleaved evergreen that can grow 100 feet tall, with attractive peeling bark and lush flowers and fruit. It drops leaves and bark throughout the summer. The berries feed doves, pigeons, robins and thrushes. Wood rats eat the fruit and deer will eat the foliage. Madrona is popular with cavity-nesting birds like nuthatches, wrens and woodpeckers. Songbirds, small owls and mammals like raccoons, squirrels and porcupines will move into cavities abandoned by woodpeckers. The flowers attract bees and hummingbirds.
Red Alder is fast growing, up to 40-80 feet, invasive and ideal for ecological restoration. Finches eat the seeds of red alder. Deer and elk eat the leaves, twigs and buds of young trees. Stands of red alder are favorable habitat for deer, providing shade in summer and early fall. Beavers eat the bark and use the trunks for building dams and lodges.
Oregon White Oak is slow growing, up to 80-100 feet. Acorns are an important food source in autumn and winter for deer, bears, raccoons and many small mammals. The western gray squirrel, a threatened species in Washington state, is largely dependent upon Oregon white oak trees. Wild turkeys, band-tailed pigeons, woodpeckers, jays and scores of other animals partake of the acorns. Acorns can compose more than 75 percent of a white-tailed deer’s diet in winter. Oregon white oak provides cover and shade for deer, squirrels, chipmunks, wild turkeys, crows, rabbits, opossums, jays, quail, raccoons, ducks and others.
Black Cottonwood becomes very large (up to 150 feet) very fast, making it valuable as a wildlife habitat and for quick land restoration after flooding. Near bodies of water it helps fish by stabilizing stream banks, shedding leaves and twigs that convert to nutrients, and creating shade. Bald eagles, hawks, owls, ospreys, hummingbirds, woodpeckers and other bird species use it for nesting. Deer and elk use it for cover. Rabbits and hares eat the bark. Beavers use it for food and for dam building.
Pacific Crab Apple grows slowly to 36 feet. Sweet fragrant blossoms in spring become the little apples known to orchard growers as “deer candy.” Other browsing animals like them too, as do many birds. Butterfly larvae thrive in the leaves. Apple blossoms attract insect pollinators such as the mason bee. Abundant, thick leaves provide cover for wildlife.
Bitter Cherry, a quick grower, from 6 to 45 feet, has attractive bark, pretty flowers, and fruit that is not edible for humans. Deer, elk and black bear will browse the leaves. Birds, small mammals and slugs eat the cherries.
Black Hawthorn grows to 20-45 feet. Appreciated for their attractive flowers and fruit, Black Hawthorns’ spreading roots hold soil in place and send out suckers (baby trees) to create an impenetrable, thorny thicket, an excellent cover and nesting site. Birds like cedar waxwings and many types of mammals eat the fruit.
Pacific Dogwood usually grows about 20-30 feet. It is one of the most desirable natives for gardens because of its spectacular floral display in the spring, flowing into other seasons with red berries and pinkish fall foliage. Deer and elk will browse the leaves. Small mammals and birds such as grosbeak finches, cedar waxwings, pileated woodpeckers and flickers eat the fruit.
Cascara grows to 15-36 feet. The leaves are bright green in spring, turning dark and glossy in the summer. Yellow foliage sheds in the fall. Cascara are especially favored by pileated woodpeckers. Deer or other mammals may browse the leaves. The berries are attractive to birds, small mammals and raccoons.
Big-Leaf Maple grows rapidly to more than 100 feet tall. It is a spreading tree with a rounded head and may grow nearly as wide as it is tall.The trunk can grow to more than 3 feet in diameter, so it needs a lot of space. In fall, the leaves turn yellow then brown, falling to leave a critter-sheltering layer of large, brown leaves all winter. Its deeply ridged bark creates an ideal habitat for mosses, lichens and licorice fern. Douglas squirrels will store the seeds and munch on the flowers. Deer eat the lichens, and share the seedlings and saplings with small mammals.