Increasing Wildlife and Habitat in Your Woods

Whatever your reasons are for wanting more wildlife to live on or visit your property, you won’t be successful unless you meet their needs for food, shelter/cover, water, and living space. Food and cover are the most important of these, and in fact more wildlife will die from lack of cover than from starvation. You can still attract wildlife to your property without having all of these components, but you will have a better chance if do have all on your property or on nearby properties.


Every species has its own specific food requirements, and those requirements may change with the season or as the animal grows. The manipulation of your forest, through timber harvesting, and the planting of trees and shrubs are the most powerful tools you have for affecting the quality of food available to wildlife. What you are looking to create is a diversity of food sources that are available year round. When managing your woodlands, choose to favor the plants that your desired wildlife feed on or that the prey of your desired wildlife feed on.

Learn more about what to plant to attract wildlife in:
So What Should I Plant?
Woody Cover for Wildlife
Landscape Plants that Attract Birds
Learn about shelterbelts and food plots in Gimme Shelter


Wildlife use cover for raising their young, escaping predators, and for protection from severe weather. The more diversity you have in cover, the more diversity in wildlife you will attract. This includes diversity in the types of trees and shrubs and their sizes and ages. This also includes diversity in the non-living parts of your forest like rock piles, standing dead trees, and brush piles.

Learn more about how to create shelter and cover to attract wildlife:
Learn how to create brush piles for wildlife in Rabbitat
Learn how to manage dead wood for wildlife in Critter Condos
Learn how the edge between habitats is important to wildlife in On Edge
Learn how to build structures for birds and mammals in Shelves, Houses, and Feeders for Birds and Mammals


Wildlife use water bodies for a number of reasons including for drinking, bathing, and for finding something to eat. Adding some kind of water feature to your property (when you had none before) will most likely get you an immediate increase in the number of wildlife that will visit your property. However, you don’t necessarily have to have a body of water on your property to get wildlife, many times they can fulfill their need for water in other ways. They might be using water bodies on nearby properties or many animals get most of their water from the things they eat. In general, moving water with some aquatic plants will attract more wildlife than standing water with nothing growing in it.

Learn more about restoring wetlands on your property in Just Add Water
Learn more about managing stream corridors for wildlife in Wealth of the Waterways

Living Space

Every wildlife species has a unique pattern of space and territorial needs. The space needs of some wildlife can be easily fulfilled in a small amount of land whereas others require thousands of acres and will most likely be something you can do nothing about. Along with size, other characteristics of living space important to wildlife include: the shape and constituents of that living space; its connectedness to other habitats; and how it will change over time.

Learn how to develop a plan for molding your forest into great wildlife habitat in Putting Pen to Paper

What wildlife is already using your property?

Now that you know the basic needs of wildlife, it is time to get started making your forest attractive to wildlife. A good first step is to figure who is using your property now. You may have already collected some data on which wildlife are on your property by noting the tracks they leave or actually seeing them. That is good, but you want to be more thorough so that you can actually see the impact the changes you are making to your forest are having. Here is a great publication on how to inventory and monitor wildlife on your property. It includes some easy to do activities that your whole family will enjoy participating in.

When you have some data collected on who is using your property, then it is time to make some changes to attract more and different wildlife. Start by figuring out exactly what it is you are hoping to get out of any activity. The more specific you can be, the better plan you will assemble and the more satisfied you will be with the results. It is a good idea to spread your activities out over several years so that you don’t get overwhelmed all at once.

Additional Resources:

Natural communities website
Wisconsin Animals

Learn more about the basics of wildlife management in:
Calling All Wildlife
Wisconsin Wildlife Primer
A Landowners Guide to Woodland Wildlife Management
Learn how to enhance your woodland for wildlife in To Cut or Not To Cut?

Be aware of the threatened and endangered species that may be on your property

Even though our forests here in Wisconsin don’t seem like anything special, they contain some plants and animals whose populations are declining. There are a number of simple things that we can do to protect these species and their habitats while still achieving our own goals for our forests. Take some time to review the list in the link below and see if your property may contain any threatened or endangered species.
Here is a list of threatened and endangered species

Related Blog Posts

Exploring wildlife trees
Brush piles for better wildlife habitat
Wildlife for your woodlot

Related Publications

Wildlife section of our publications

Related Websites

DNR Wildlife Fact Sheets

Looking For More Information? Try:

Tree Planting