Green Garden

How to Create a Backyard Wildlife Habitat

In my previous blog post we looked at how to convert a lawn into an eco-friendly landscape by replacing it with a wildflower meadow consisting of indigenous plant species that will provide a refuge for wildlife. However, this is not the only way to attract wildlife to your garden. You could also create a backyard wildlife habitat by planting garden beds with indigenous plant species that provide food, refuge, and breeding habitat for a range of birds, butterflies and other animals. This can be done to compliment your wildflower meadow, or to compensate for any lawn that you wish to keep.

Squirrel enjoying backyard wildlfe habitat


All living creatures require the following essentials for their long-term survival:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Refuge from predators; shelter from the elements
  • Suitable breeding habitat to ensure the survival of the species

If you take these needs into consideration when planning your garden, you will create a backyard haven that will attract wildlife; and if food and water are readily available and they feel safe, they will hang around. They may even set up home and raise their young in your garden, which is not only an honor, but a delight. Transforming your garden into a wildlife sanctuary not only benefits wildlife; you can also apply to have your property awarded the National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Habitat Certificate, which is a great feather in the cap of any green home.


Sunbird feeding on plant nectar

Providing Food Sources for Wildlife

All living things need food! Planting native grasses, flowering plants, shrubs and trees is the most effective way of providing a wide variety of food sources, such as foliage, pollen, nectar, seeds, berries and nuts to provide sustenance to a diverse range of wildlife species. When seasonal food sources are scarce, you can supplement this with other food sources, such as feeders.

Backyard Wildlife Habitat Certification Requirements: Food

In order to meet the requirements for Wildlife Habitat Certification, your backyard habitat needs to provide at least three of the following food types: plant seeds, berries, fruits, nuts, nectar, pollen, sap, foliage or twigs, sap, suet, butterfly feeder, bird feeder, hummingbird feeder, or squirrel feeder.


Bird baths are a key feature of a backyard wildlfie habitat

Providing Water

Birds, butterflies and other species require a clean source of water for a number of different purposes. They need water to drink, water to bathe in, and some species require water for reproduction. Climate change is having an impact on wildlife too – during periods of droughts natural water sources may be scarce, which may threaten their survival. By providing a constant source of water for wildlife you may help birds, butterflies and other species of wildlife survive when conditions are tough. Water sources can be natural water features, such as a wetland, stream or pond, or man-made water features such as rain gardens, bird baths, or installed/constructed garden ponds. Bird baths are a popular choice as they are cheap, easy to install, can be placed anywhere in the garden and can be moved about easily. Make sure the water is changed frequently in summer to prevent mosquitoes from breeding, and in areas that have colder winters it may be necessary to install a small heater to prevent the water from icing over.

Backyard Wildlife Habitat Certification Requirements: Water

To attain the Wildlife Habitat Certificate, your backyard habitat needs to have one of the following water sources to provide wildlife with clean drinking water and a refreshing bath: birdbath, pond, water garden, rain garden, butterfly puddling area, seasonal pool, spring, stream, river, lake, wetland, or ocean.


Hedgehog in leaf litter

Providing Cover

Birds, butterflies and other animals require refuges where they can hide from predators, people and shelter from hot or stormy weather. Native plant species are ideal as they tend to provide both cover and food for wildlife. Shrubs, thickets and piles of brush provide excellent shelter for birds and butterflies to retreat into to hide away from danger. Don’t overlook the benefits of dead trees – these provide habitat to a host of organisms, as well as perching, roosting and nesting areas for a variety of bird species. You can also supplement natural habitat with artificial roosting or nest boxes such as bat boxes or bird houses designed to attract your target species.

Backyard Wildlife Habitat Certification Requirements: Cover

To qualify for the Wildlife Habitat Certificate, your backyard habitat needs to provide at least two places within your garden consisting of any of the following types of cover that offer protection form predators and inclement weather: meadow or prairie, ground cover, pond or water garden, woody area, evergreen trees, dense shrubs/thicket, log/brush pile, bramble patch, wall or rock pile, cave, roosting/nesting box, or burrow.


Bird Nest Box

Providing Breeding Habitat

In order to breed successfully, wildlife require a sheltered haven where it is safe for them to rear their young. Many areas that provide cover and shelter can also serve as breeding or nesting areas for wildlife, including wildflower meadows and prairies, and bushes that attract butterflies and moths who then lay their eggs in these refuges.

Backyard Wildlife Habitat Certification Requirements: Breeding Habitat

To provide suitable breeding habitat in your backyard, you need to provide at least two areas where wildlife can conduct courtship and mating behavior, and where they can successfully bear and raise their offspring. These areas can consist of: a meadow or prairie, host plants that provide food for caterpillars, dense shrubs/thicket, mature trees, dead trees, wetland, pond or water garden, cave, nesting box or burrow.


Backyard Wildlife Habitat Certification

Get Certified!

Once you have taken the steps to establish a wildlife habitat in your backyard, you can join thousands of fellow conservation-minded wildlife enthusiasts across the US whose properties have earned the distinction of becoming Wildlife Habitat Certified.


Get Backyard Wildlife Habitat Certified

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