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The Neighborhood

Create Perfect Backyard Habitats
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 3:14:00 PM
backyard habitat

Whether you live in a log cabin or a condo, you can make a place for wildlife right at your backdoor. It’s easier than you think. There are three basic steps to creating a Backyard Wildlife Habitat.

Assess Your Yard Or Garden Space

The first thing you need to do is identify the habitat elements that already exist in your yard or garden space. You may be surprised to find you're already providing some habitat for wildlife!

Native plants that provide food and cover are the backbone of every habitat. Make a list of all the plants in your yard, including everything from trees to wildflowers.

Try to determine which of your plants are native to your area and which are not. Which existing plants might provide food such as seeds, fruits, nuts and nectar? Which plants might provide safe cover or nesting places?

Do you have any dead or dying trees? If so, don’t reach for the chainsaw! Dying or dead trees are excellent habitat features. They are excavated and used by woodpeckers, flying squirrels, and a multitude of insects and cavity-nesting birds, such as owls, bluebirds, chickadees and wrens.

Determine how your yard might already provide water for wildlife. This could be in the form of a pond, water garden, stream, vernal pool or birdbath.

Make a list of any structures that provide habitat elements, such as bird feeders, nesting structures, rock walls or log piles.

Finally, consider the physical features of your yard, such as sun and wind exposure and soil conditions.

Provide The Four Basic Elements

All species have four basic requirements for survival: food, water, cover, and places to raise young.


1. Food

Birds are a major component in your backyard habitat. They play a crucial role in the natural “management” of the larger environment and your own backyard. By helping to pollinate flowering trees and plants, and eating insects and seeds birds contribute to the natural checks and balances built into our environment. Providing birds with food, water and shelter in which to raise young gives a great deal of pleasure to the landowner and helps ensure a healthy bird population.

Feed birds year-round with seed feeders to ensure that the local population and migrating birds have a constant food supply. Hummingbird feeders can be used from late spring through early fall.

bird feeders
Shop Bird & Squirrel Feeders

Select plants that provide natural foods such as fruits, seeds, nuts and nectar. Choose your plants to provide food for backyard wildlife throughout the year. Native perennials and annuals provide nectar for both butterflies and hummingbirds. As one program participant says, "Hummingbirds like ice-cream cones and butterflies like pizza." This is because hummingbirds tend to visit tube-shaped red flowers, such as Bee Balm, Wild Columbine and our native honeysuckles. Butterflies prefer flat or clustered flowers, such as Purple Coneflower, phlox, and zinnias.

By choosing native plants suited to the site conditions, little maintenance, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or additional watering will be necessary for the plants to thrive. This all adds up to time and cost savings as well as a healthier habitat for you, your family, and the wildlife that inhabit your yard. Supplemental feeders can provide nectar for hummingbirds in the summer months and a variety of seed (sunflower, niger, safflower, and millet) for other birds throughout the year. Keep in mind that bird feeders should only be used as a supplement to natural food provided by native plants.

hummingbird feeders
Shop Hummingbird Feeders

2. Water

Wildlife need water for drinking, bathing, and, in some cases, breeding.

Water can be supplied in a birdbath, a small pond, a recirculating waterfall or a shallow dish. If you’re lucky enough to have a natural pond, stream, vernal pool, or other wetland on your property, make sure to preserve or restore it as these are excellent aquatic habitats.

A small pond set into the ground provides water for drinking and bathing, as well as cover and reproductive areas for small fish, insects, amphibians and reptiles.

However you decide to provide water, make sure you do so year round. This can easily be done with a thermostatically controlled birdbath heater to provide water during subfreezing weather when the need for water is critical.

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Aromatic Cedar Bat House
Aromatic Cedar Bat House
Audubon Bat Shelter
Audubon Bat Shelter
Purple Martin Houses
Purple Martin Houses

Rabbits, shrews, mice, snakes and salamanders lay their eggs or raise young under boughs of plants as well as in the rock, log or mulch piles.

Nest boxes for bluebirds, chickadees, wrens and purple martins can be placed in your backyard.

Aquatic animals, such as frogs, toads, newts, dragonflies, and other insects, deposit their eggs in ponds, vernal pools, and other wetlands.

Butterflies require "host" plants that serve as food sources for butterflies during their larval (caterpillar) stage. Butterflies almost invariably lay their eggs on the host plant preferred by the caterpillar, so make sure to include some of the host plants in your habitat.

Native honeybees are essential pollinators for many trees and flowers, but their populations are in decline. We can help fill the pollination gap by providing homes for solitary bees like orchard bees.

Mason Bee Lodge
Mason Bee Lodge

Benefits of Attracting Wildlife

Besides adding visual interest to your yard and garden, wildlife is important for insect control. Did you know that 99% of the insects in your yard are beneficial? One-third of all the food we eat comes as a direct result from pollinator insects, while many insects prey on the annoying ones, like mosquitoes. Besides throwing a damper on your outdoor gathering, mosquitoes can carry dangerous diseases (like West Nile), and pesticides (in addition to being hard on the environment and dangerous to children) aren’t much help, since they also kill the “good” bugs – bugs like dragonflies, who eat millions of mosquitoes, but don’t bounce back as fast their food source does after exposure to insecticides.

Birds and bats also eat millions of pesky insects every day, so encouraging them to come to your backyard is a definite advantage and a much healthier alternative to pesticides – for you and your family and the environment.

Certify Your Habitat

Already meet the requirements for certification? Visit the National Wildlife Federation and learn more about certifying your yard online today!

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Tags: How To
Categories: Gardening


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