Urban areas are where humans have settled and built towns and cities. With humans having encroached on animals’ habitats to do so, more and more animals are sharing these urban areas with people, including backyards and gardens.
As we have removed many natural habitats to make way for urban development, we need to ensure that these regions are animal-friendly. Creating spaces in your school grounds, as well as your backyard and garden, that are safe and best reflect these animals’ natural habitats is a great way to do so!
Fruit bearing trees, flowers, and plants attract native birds, invertebrates (insects, worms, snails, etc.), and give them a place to eat, sleep, rest, etc.
These animals deserve our respect and kindness just as much as any other animal, so it’s best to help and watch them from a distance.
Have a look below at the amazing taonga that make urban, garden, and backyard habitats their home, what challenges they face, and how you can help!
Not only do companion animals live in urban, backyard, and garden areas, but lots of wild animals can be found in this environment as well. Have a look at some of the animals you can see visiting backyards, parks, gardens, or just between your walk from home to school:
The urban areas of New Zealand have some truly beautiful green space filled with different plants, trees, shrubs, etc. Below are some examples of the flora you can find sometimes just by looking out your window:
Roads, buildings, malls, homes, and parking lots have taken up a lot of space which has caused a lot of challenges for wildlife. As such, it’s not uncommon to see insects and birds in urban areas. However, because their habitats have gotten smaller, wildlife has faced a lot of challenges.
Window strike is when birds accidentally fly into windows. Birds often strike windows because they see a reflection of clouds, sky or trees which makes them think that they can fly straight on ahead. This can cause serious injuries for birds or can even be fatal. Young birds learning to fly are especially vulnerable.
Sadly, many forests and wetlands have been destroyed over the years since people settled in New Zealand. Forests were cleared to make way for things like carparks, malls, houses, etc., as well as to make use of the timber for construction and land for farming. People have encroached on these spaces which have caused animals to try and find homes elsewhere in some cases. This results in a lack of food, water, and shelter for these animals.
Roads and vehicles
Roads and vehicles are big hazards for wildlife. Animals trying to cross the road in search for food and shelter can sadly be killed by motor vehicles, not knowing that it’s dangerous. Additionally, roads have cleared major parts of their natural habitats, destroying their livelihood and driving them to urban areas.
If a cat or dog attempts to chase or catch wildlife, they are acting on a strong natural instinct – not misbehaving. It is an animal guardian’s (owner’s) responsibility to control and contain their animals in order to help protect wildlife.
People have introduced a number of different weeds to New Zealand. Originally meant to be garden plants, these weeds ended up thriving in New Zealand’s climate. Unfortunately, this has become a big issue, as the weeds have changed the natural balance of wildlife habitats.
Weeds have outnumbered the amount of native plants – the plants that our treasured wildlife depend on to live. This reduced source of food and breeding sites often affects wildlife behaviour.
Use of pesticides
Pesticides that are used in urban, backyard, and garden habitats can kill bees and other invertebrates. Bees are such an important part of conservation - they feed on pollen and nectar, they are a main pollinator of plants and flowers that are used by both humans and animals. Without them, many plants would not survive.
Feeding wildlife human food
Although people have good intentions when they feed wild animals like ducks and other birds, it can actually lead to several problems, some of which are listed below:
If the wrong foods are fed to animals, they won’t get the nutrients that provide them with energy and strength.
It contributes to an imbalance in bird species, with introduced birds thriving excessively.
Inappropriate food can cause deformation - this means their body parts don’t grow the way they’re supposed to.
When birds are given food by humans, it makes them dependent and less able to survive without the provided food.
Rotting bread also pollutes water which encourages bacterial growth and disease that harms animals.
Litter has serious negative impacts on wildlife and is very dangerous for them.
Wild animals are vulnerable to litter as they can become entangled or trapped in it, leading to serious injuries or even death. Animals can also mistake litter for food which can be a choking hazard, cause issues with impaction in the gut, and lead to starvation.
Not only does this litter harm wild animals, but companion animals have gotten serious injuries from litter as well.
Prevent window strike
There are a few things you can do to help prevent window strike:
Build bat homes, bug hotels, and lizard lounges
Find safer ways to protect your garden
Instead of using pesticides that can kill animals such as bees, consider natural alternatives for the garden like planting onion, garlic, or marigolds.
However, if your dogs can access your garden, avoid onion and garlic.
Plant locally sourced native trees/plants
Planting specific bird friendly trees, plants, and flowers is an effective, kind, and compassionate way to promote native species. Many native birds rely on nectar, fruit, and/or insects for the nutrients they need to be happy and healthy. You can plant species from the urban, backyard, and garden flora list or ask your local garden centre what the best plants are for your area! Just be sure that you do not plant too close to your windows to help prevent bird strike.
In addition to this, if you find any pest plants, it’s important that you remove and disposed of them safely and carefully. Contact your local council to find out how to best dispose of them in your area.
Provide animal-friendly sources of water
These sources can include:
It’s very important to make sure you keep these water sources clean and prevent the growth of bacteria by washing them out with mild soap and water every day.
Keep your cat safe and happy at home
Contained cats are more likely to enjoy a longer, healthier life. This includes spending more quality time with you, keeping them safe from road traffic, avoiding problems with your neighbours, and reducing the risk they will harm or kill other animals.
You can contain your cat by cat-proofing an outdoor area, using a combination of indoors and a secure outdoor enclosure, or keeping your cat indoors. You will need to provide them with opportunities to meet their physical and behavioural needs.
For more information, click here.
You can also take a look at the rest of our bird friendly cat tips in the Wild Birds section below.
Additionally, it’s important to follow the rules when you and your family are exercising your dog.
Birds - to feed or not to feed?
Many people think they are doing a good thing by feeding birds human food like bread. Unfortunately, although birds will happily gobble up bread, bread is actually very unhealthy for them. Bread fills up a bird’s stomach, but it doesn’t give them any of the nutrition they need to be healthy and strong. When birds eat bread, it’s just like people filling up lots of junk food. This can lead to several problems, like the ones listed in the challenges above.
Rather than feeding them bread or bird seed, which holds little to no nutritional value, it’s best to plant a buffet of trees, bushes and shrubs for birds in your backyard to help them thrive. This will give birds areas to rest, feel safe, and of course eat. Help keep New Zealand’s birds safe and healthy by keeping bread at home for your toast and sandwiches!
Give wildlife space
It’s always important to admire wildlife from a distance. Remain quiet, don’t approach them, and give them the distance and respect they deserve.
There are lots of ways you can get involved with different groups, organisations, and projects to help conserve wildlife:
Write a polite letter or email
You can write a polite email or letter to the government supporting the development of city green corridors, protection of parks and reserves, and urging for further initiatives that protect urban wildlife within your region.
Spread the word
Help protect precious wildlife by sharing these facts and tips with all your friends, family, classmates, and teachers!
If you see a wild animal that is not sick, injured, or in danger, it is best to give them space and let them go about their day.
If you find a wild animal who is sick or injured, remember to put everyone’s safety first and with the help of an adult, call the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
DOC can help you locate a local wildlife rescue and/or come help the animal. It’s important to be as precise as possible about the animal’s location so they can be found quickly.
Check out our Wild Bird section below to read information on what you should do if you find a wild bird and our Hedgehog section to learn what to do if you find a hedgehog needing help.
Watching wild birds forage for food, nest and raise young in our gardens or sing happily from a backyard tree brings joy to many people.
As humans, we have changed birds’ natural environment significantly, by clearing large areas of vegetation, to create roads and construct buildings, and introducing new animals to areas they were never once found.
This has placed birds under pressure, with competition to find food, shelter, safety and suitable habitats to breed in. Therefore, it is only fair that we help them survive in the environments we’ve created, this is especially important when they hurt or injure themselves.
It's common in spring and summer to see young birds (fledglings) sitting on the ground or hopping about without any sign of their parents.
This is perfectly normal. As long as the fledgling is in a safe area and appears healthy, there's no need to be worried. These fledglings are doing exactly what they are meant to do at their age.
The chicks of most common garden birds leave their nest once they are fully feathered, but before they are able to fly. These fledglings spend a day or two, sometimes longer, on the ground while their flight feathers finish growing. The only exceptions are swallows, swifts, fairy-martins and tree-martins, as they are able to fly well as soon as they leave the nest, so they should never be found on the ground.
However tempting it may be, interfering with a young bird like this will do more harm than good. Fledglings are very unlikely to be abandoned by their parents. Just because you cannot see their mum or dad, it does not mean that they are not there. The parents are probably just away collecting food or are hidden close by keeping a watchful eye on their baby. They may even have been frightened away from their baby by your presence and are waiting to come back once you leave.
Click on the image below to download our infographic so you can learn what to do if you find a baby bird:
Remember, if the young bird has a full covering of feathers, he/she will have left the nest deliberately and is no longer meant to be in a nest. Unless he/she is injured, such a bird should be left where he/she is, in the care of his/her own parents.
If the baby bird is on a busy path, road or other unsafe area, ask an adult to gently move the fledgling to a safe spot as nearby as possible. If there is a thick hedge close by, place the bird here - this will be hard for cats to climb up onto and also gives a good platform from which it can eventually take off. The fledgling will call out for his or her parents and should be fed by them until it's time to take that first major flight, hopefully within a week or so.
If the young bird has no feathers or it is covered in fluffy down, this means he/she is a nestling and has probably fallen out of a nest by accident. In this case, ask an adult to use one of these rescue methods:
Put the baby bird back into their nest
Make a replacement nest
Catching an injured bird can be difficult. Handling must be firm but gentle. If not, more injury will be caused. It is very important that you ask an adult to do this for you. First and foremost, it is important to be careful, as some birds can cause serious injuries because they’re sick, stressed, and/or afraid.
If you do not have a towel or light weight blanket, an adult can attempt the following methods:
Remember, the best way to keep your cat safe and protect wildlife, is to keep your cat contained on your property. But, by following these simple tips, your family can also minimise the impact that your cat could have on wildlife around your home.
Hedgehogs are regular visitors to school grounds, parks, gardens and yards. There are many different opinions about hedgehogs. Some people call them pests; some call them gardener’s friends. Others say it depends whether they live in a suburban backyard or an area of native bush inhabited by native species.
Regardless of what you label them, hedgehogs are living beings with needs and feelings and unfortunately, they are an animal that is often found sick, injured and suffering. When we care about living creatures, we never want to see any in pain and suffering. So here, we offer some information about hedgehogs and some tips on what to do if you should happen to find one that is in need of help.
When early European settlers brought their crops to NZ, they also accidentally brought many of the unwanted bugs, slugs and insects that came with them. This meant they quickly needed a cure as their crops were being gobbled up by these garden pests.
The ideal cure was a prickly garden pest-eater called the hedgehog. So, hedgehogs were brought to New Zealand and for the past 100 years, we've gone along with the idea that the hedgehog is a kind of garden helper, munching up garden bugs that would otherwise be eating our fruit, vegetables and plants.
BUT... the problem is when hedgehogs find their way into areas of native bush. This is where they are now known to eat the eggs of riverbed breeding birds, such as the banded dotterel and black-fronted tern. Hedgehogs have also been known to eat chicks of a variety of ground-nesting birds and small native insects and reptiles. Due to these additions to the hedgehog’s diet, they are now regarded a pest in many regions.
Of course, it is not the poor hedgehog’s fault. They are not bad creatures and they didn’t choose to come to New Zealand. However, like many other introduced animals, they are simply in the wrong place. Hedgehogs do not naturally belong in New Zealand; therefore, our native wildlife is not adapted to protect themselves from them.
So, when living in New Zealand bush, hedgehogs are considered pests. The hedgehog’s impact in most native bush areas that have the full range of other pests is considered low, because some of these other pests – like stoats – also eat hedgehogs. However, in areas where other pests are absent, like many Hauraki Gulf islands, hedgehogs can increase in numbers and become a significant predator of threatened native species.
Our native bush is quite different from our suburban gardens where they instead chomp through garden beetles, slugs and snails.
Whether a pest or gardener’s friend, no living creature deserves to suffer.
URGENT HELP IS NEEDED if you see a hedgehog:
It is important to contact a Hedgehog Rescue Centre as soon as possible for more advice BUT before contacting a centre, you can ask an adult to do the following:
Now contact a Hedgehog Rescue Centre for advice:
New Zealand Wide
Hedgehog Haven – Peg Loague
PO Box 119, Taupo
Tel: 07 378 7630|
Peg will be able to give you further advice and possibly have a contact in your local area. You can also contact her via email.
See video on Peg's work on Animal Academy TV series (Episode 2, end of chapter 1)
Thank you to Peg Loague of Hedgehog Haven for her kind and knowledgeable advice on which this information is based.