A habitat is the kind of biotic community, or set of biotic communities, in which an animal lives – a habitat is an animal’s natural home!
So how does an animal decide where to live? We’ll discuss that and a few habitat components that can help turn your animals house into a home!
How an animal chooses a home is a very specialized process – when an animal selects a certain place to live, it is quite often restricting itself to that habitat – and will become specialized for that particular place.
Wildlife habitats are considered to consist of:
- Welfare Factors: habitat requirements of the particular animal (to survive and reproduce) – these provide insight into the factors limiting a population.
- Decimating Factors: various types of mortality suffered by the particular animal (i.e., removal of animals from the population)
- Environmental Factors: processes that alter the animal’s environment e.g., floods, fire, logging, etc.
For a wild animal to survive and reproduce, a habitat must provide certain essential welfare factors: Food, Water, Breeding Sites, Territory, and Cover.
FOOD: Are your animals dietary generalists or specialists? Generalists eat a wide variety of foods (black bears are a good example of a generalist – they eat meat, berries, vegetation, fish, and so on). Specialists on the other hand eat only a specific number of food items (Pronghorn for example mainly eat only the young shoots of sagebrush). If you manage for generalists, you usually have your bases covered, however make sure that whatever it is that your specialist needs is available too!
WATER: It goes without saying that water is a critical habitat component. Most animals can survive weeks without food but only days without water. The major problem is that water is available, but simply too dangerous for the animal to get to!! (How accessible is your habitat water? Have a bird bath out back but no visitors? It may be too open and vulnerable to the watchful eyes of hawks! Have a pond but you mow around the bank? A lot of smaller animals won’t willingly go into the wide open for a drink!)
BREEDING SITES: Wild animals need areas where they can build a den, nest, or burrow for the purpose of breeding and raising young.
COVER: Cover is basically any part of the environment that enhances the reproduction or survival of an animal (e.g., nesting cover, escape cover, feeding cover, thermal cover, etc). The presence or absence of cover may directly impact the ability of an animal to survive in an area. Even the presence of food may not compensate for a lack of cover!
Cover is not just having something to hide under! Cover is 3-DIMENSIONAL (has height, width, and length!) Some animals are not very selective about what they use as cover (e.g., opossums) but other animals can be VERY selective about the type of cover they require (e.g., woodcock).
NO COVER = NO ANIMALS / LITTLE COVER = FEW ANIMALS
The area over which an animal travels in its day-to-day activities is called the Home Range. E.g., field mouse = 0.5 acres / male turkey = 1100 acres (Remember: the bigger the home range, the poorer the habitat!!)
TERRITORY: Within an animal’s home range is an area that the animal will actively defend against other animals at some time of the year. This area is called a territory and can be substantially smaller than an animals home range size. Think of it as the animals “house” – it may have a 10,000 acre yard, but its house is the most important place to an animals livelihood. And in that house is usually all the habitat components that we discussed above: food, water, cover, and a breeding or reproduction site.
Catering to an animals needs doesn’t have to be difficult when you cover all the points we have here today – channel your inner Martha Stewart and help your animals build a home!