Create Wildlife Habitat in Your Backyard

Content Tools

Recently you may have heard the terms 'ecotherapy,' 'nature-based therapy' or 'nature deficit disorder.' They have surfaced in response to research that shows humans have a basic need to be in touch with the world around them; that contact with nature and wildlife promotes both mental and physical well-being. Everyday we feel a pull to nature in one way or another, through a desire to gaze at the night sky, study a stately hawk or appreciate the change of a season. Upon seeing a turtle inch across a busy road, we take time from our ridiculously busy lives and stop to help him out before continuing on to our destination.

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) makes it easy for you to add a little (or a lot) of nature to your surroundings. The five simple steps below will help you create beautiful outdoor spaces that you, your family and various critters will enjoy. All you have to do is provide sources of food, water and cover, then maintain those sources in an environmentally friendly manner.

1. Create Food Sources: Native plants and wildflowers are excellent natural sources of food for wildlife, and because they are well-accustomed to your area, they require less intensive care. For a list of plants native to your state, along with undesirable invasives to avoid, click here. To learn about attracting butterflies by incorporating their favorite vegetation into your garden, read ' Relief For Weary Monarch Butterflies.'

2. Create Water Sources: Birdbaths are excellent sources of clean water for urban wildlife, but if you have a yard to work with, a great way to provide access to water is to create a small pond or water garden. It's easier than it sounds:

  • Dig a hole 1 to 3 feet deep, preferably 3 feet if you want your pond to be frog-friendly. Make sure the bottom is flat and level, or water may leak from one side. Make sure at least one edge is sloped, so frogs can come and go as needed.

  • Add padding to the floor of the hole with sand or old carpet to protect the liner.

  • Measure the hole and choose a liner made from EPDM (a synthetic rubber that withstands high and low temperatures); PVC will deteriorate faster and contains harmful chemicals. The liner should be big enough to extend at least 8 inches around the edge of the hole. Install the liner, then add rocks and dirt around the edge to secure it.

  • Add water and plants. (If you fill the hole with tap water, let it sit for about a week to allow the chlorine to dissipate before adding plants or other waterlife.)

3. Provide Cover: Critters need places to hide and raise young?here's where logs, brush or rock piles come into play. Shrubs also are great cover sources, as are nesting boxes for squirrels and birds. If you're considering a nesting box or two, keep in mind that bat houses are easy to make, and bats are great at controlling insect populations, especially mosquitoes (to learn more, read ' Fantastic Bats'). If you have a couple of dead trees on your property, you already have a great shelter for creatures of all kinds.

4. Maintain: Now, all you have to do is keep your new friends in mind when you are tending to your garden and yard. Garden the green way using mulch and compost, and avoid pesticides. Chances are your native plants won't need much help, anyway. Try reducing your lawn area, too, by expanding your gardens. You'll save a lot of time and gas by mowing less, as well as reduce the need for water and fertilizer. Another easy and eco-friendly gardening practice is to collect rainwater in buckets for irrigating. More green gardening tips can be found in 'The Gardener's Guide to Global Warming,' a report from NWF that outlines the threats of climate change and what gardeners can do to help.

5. Certify: Not only will you enjoy new neighbors such as frogs, songbirds and butterflies, but you can go one step further and certify your new habitat with NWF. They will provide you with an official certificate and free membership, complete with a subscription to their magazine. They'll even send a press release to your local newspaper if you'd like. Go to to submit your application online, or call (800) 822-9919.

Handy Habitat Sites:

For more helpful information about attracting wildlife, read ' Create Wildlife Habitat' and check out the tips from these Web sites:

Animal Planet's Backyard Habitat Program
Access all the great information from the TV series here; includes a step-by-step guide for neat projects such as 'mockingbird pizza,' 'lizard logs' and more.

National Audobon Society
Whether you live in an apartment, suburban neighborhood or rural homestead, this page has what you're looking for.

Natural Resource Conservation Service
Visit the NRCS site for helpful pointers on planning your habitat, including a recommended list of plants, trees and shrubs.

National Wildlife Federation's 'Green Hour'
NWF reports that children who spend at least one hour per day outdoors are in better physical shape and have more active imaginations. Click on the link below for more information and a list of fun activities.