How to Make Your Backyard Wildlife-Friendly

Northern Bobwhites will visit yards when cover and food is available.
Northern Bobwhites will visit yards when cover and food is available. Danita Delimont/Gallo Images/Getty Images

With intensifying land use and the fragmentation of natural communities, it might seem like wildlife habitat is relegated to some faraway patches of wilderness. It does not have to be that way. We can coexist quite easily with many species of wildlife, whether we live in rural areas, suburban neighborhoods, or even within city limits. The few considerations described below will help make your backyard a more attractive place for wildlife.

Provide Food

Native species plantings will provide a natural source of food for a variety of wildlife. Choose plants that produce copious amounts of nectar, berries, nuts, or seeds. Deploying bird feeders helps support bird populations through cold winters when food is scarce. Scores of hummingbirds survive early season frost events by relying on the sugar water offered from feeders. Make sure you thoroughly wash all bird feeders periodically to prevent the transmission of contagious diseases. If you live in bear country, consider taking down your feeders during the bears’ active season. They will damage your feeders, and you will be habituating them to human proximity which may lead to more serious problems.

Provide Water

A bird bath can provide much needed water during dry periods. A small backyard pond will assist birds, but can also support salamander, frog, dragonflies, even turtle populations.

Collect rainwater coming down your gutter spouts and make it available to plants, bees, and butterflies in a rain garden. It will also give you an opportunity to showcase the amazing diversity of forms and colors wetland plants can offer.

Provide Cover

A welcoming yard for wildlife is one where they can rest relatively free of stress.

This means providing animals with thick shrubs, high grasses, even brush piles for them to hide and rest in. Even loose stone walls provide great cover for chipmunks, snakes, and weasels. Are you distraught after having seen a hawk capture one of your feeder birds? Even with good cover available, hawks are incredibly adept at these high-speed acrobatics and surprise attacks, so you should try instead to appreciate the natural event you witnessed. 

Provide Nesting Opportunities

You can attract birdsto your property by providing them with shelter. Nesting boxes are an obvious choice, but in addition consider leaving dead trees with cavities for species like woodpeckers, swallows, wrens, and bluebirds. If you are lucky, you may have even more unusual tenants: screech owls and flying squirrels sometimes nest in yard tree cavities. Plans for bat houses are easy to find and can provide much needed roosting sites for these declining animals.

Be Careful with Pesticides

If you are a gardener, pesticides are likely a tool you need to control undesirable insect pests. Carefully select pesticides that will not harm beneficial insects and other wildlife. The products used by organic gardeners are a good place to start.

Many synthetic pesticides can be harmful to birds, aquatic ecosystems, and even human health. A large and commonly used class of pesticides, neonicotinoids, is particularly harmful to bees and other pollinators.

Mind the Streams and Lakes

Aquatic species also can benefit from properly tended backyards. Managing water runoff, especially, reduces the risks of nutrient pollution and the spread of sediment into streams.

Keep it Sustainable

A successful wildlife-friendly backyard, once established, requires only minimum maintenance to thrive. Use mulch to slow down evaporation and to minimize the need for weeding invasive species. Select native plants that are well suited for your region, eliminating the need for regular watering. When fertilizer is needed, use composted kitchen waste.

If you’re interested in encouraging wildlife habitat locally as well as nationally, check out the National Wildlife Federation’s wildlife habitat certification program.

For More Information

National Wildlife Federation. Garden for Wildlife.