How to Create a Wildlife Habitat

 Now more than ever, American homeowners are seeing their landscapes as opportunities to make a positive impact on the environment. While a beautiful, blooming garden is nice to look at, a garden that doubles as a wildlife sanctuary has benefits that reach far beyond your neighborhood. Transforming your backyard into a wildlife habitat not only allows you to enjoy the beauty of nature, but also promotes healthy populations of the beneficial birds, bugs, and bunnies we all rely on. 

You can change the world by creating your own wildlife sanctuary, and you can do it on any budget. Here’s how!

How to Make Your Backyard Wildlife-Friendly

No matter how big or small, every living thing depends on four primary things; food, water, shelter, and somewhere to nest. To promote healthy biodiversity in your yard, native plants are the key. From the coasts of Washington or the tropics of Southern Florida, all regions have their own populations of native plants that have already been meeting the needs of the local wildlife for centuries!

Planting native perennials, shrubs, and trees in your yard is the absolute best thing you can do to serve the living things in your region. These cultivars are excellent choices for bringing life to your garden.


Natives that Provide Food

  • Magical Moonlight Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis): In the spring, this shrub is a nectar fountain for hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. Flower heads mature into round fruits that attract hungry wild birds.
  • Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca): This fragrant perennial is a necessary food source for the monarch butterfly. Also attracts other butterfly species as well as hummingbirds and hummingbird moths.
  • Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa): A four-season stunner whose dark berries are a real treat for birds and other wildlife!
  • Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium): This familiar berry is a favorite of birds, small mammals, box turtles, and of course, humans!
  • Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina): The fruit of this native tree is an important winter food source for many game- and songbirds.
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta): These bright yellow perennials are easy to grow and attract bees, butterflies, birds, and plenty of other beneficial insects.


Natives that Provide Shelter

  • Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii 'Red October'): A native perennial grass that provides cover for many songbird species. Its colors change throughout the seasons, offering year-round beauty in the landscape.

  • Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica): A tough, adaptable, and attractive shrub that provides excellent cover for birds and other small animals.

  • Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens): This perennial grass has beautiful movement in the breeze. The plant is a wintering site for ladybugs and butterflies, while the blades make excellent nesting material for birds.


Natives for Nesting

  • Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium): This clumping grass is used by many species as a nesting site, and its seeds make a valuable fall and winter food source.
  • Green Hopseed Bush (Dodonea viscosa): This dense shrub works well as a windbreak and offers a nesting place for birds.

If this list inspires you to start planting more wildlife-friendly plants, keep in mind that there are hundreds of other species to explore that can benefit the critters in your yard!

More Ideas for a Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Native plants are a great start, but there are other features you can incorporate into your yard to set your backyard friends up for life!

  • Birdbaths provide a fresh, clean water source for visiting birds. Choose a model with some texture around the bowl to help birds and squirrels keep their grip, and clean it regularly to prevent the spread of disease.
  • Leafcutter bee houses look like a box of drinking straws, but they’re actually a perfect nesting ground for this highly valuable, non-aggressive pollinator!
  • Birdhouses and nesting boxes can add some extra shelter to a yard with few trees or shrubs, but make sure to choose designs made from natural, unpainted materials.
  • Water features, like ponds and waterfalls, are the crowning jewel of a backyard wildlife habitat! These features make water accessible for species like frogs, damselflies, dragonflies, deer, rabbits, and so many more.


Certified Wildlife Gardens

Did you know you can actually designate your property as a certified wildlife habitat? The National Wildlife Federation allows anyone to have their landscape certified, provided it meets a few key criteria. Your yard qualifies if you have:

  • At least three different food sources
  • A source of water, like a birdbath or backyard pond
  • A place to take cover and nest; from a simple pile of brush to a cluster of evergreen shrubs
  • A commitment to sustainable practices

If you have each one of these things, you can visit the NWF website to certify your wildlife sanctuary in minutes. It’s a fun, easy way to “bee the change”!

While we think of our homes in terms of the houses we inhabit, the world is our real home, and all creatures are our neighbors. We owe it to the planet to build a better world, one plant at a time. Start your backyard wildlife habitat today—you can do this!