Imagine waking up each morning to songbirds outside your window, or spotting a colorful swarm of butterflies in your backyard. It’s entirely possible if you transform your outdoor space into a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation.
A Certified Wildlife Habitat—even a small one in your backyard—can be great not just for you, but for the environment too. According to the federation, “habitat loss—due to destruction, fragmentation, or degradation—is the primary threat to the survival of wildlife in the United States.”
“By the simple way we choose to landscape our gardens or properties, we can invite local species back into the land that was once theirs,” says David Mizejewski, a naturalist with the federation for over 18 years.
Currently, more than 217,000 wildlife habitats have been certified across the U.S., spanning more than 2.5 million acres consisting of backyards, gardens, fields, and community spaces. It’s the nation’s longest-running and largest effort dedicated to helping wildlife locally.
Transforming your outdoor space and getting it certified is easier than you think. Here’s what your garden needs to qualify for the designation.
Make sure your habitat has at least three food sources for wildlife. Fruit trees are perfect spots for birds to nest and can also provide food for foxes, badgers, and even deer. Not surprisingly, pollen is the perfect food for pollinators such as bees and butterflies and comes naturally from ornamental flowers.
Of course, the type of wildlife you attract will vary depending on where you live. Eco-conscious Californians might want to plant coyote mint in their yard—a favorite plant of bees that also happens to be native to the state.
If you’re in Oklahoma, consider offering whole sunflower seeds in a feeder to attract a wide variety of birds, including the northern cardinal, eastern towhee, or purple finch. Or better yet, plant sunflowers in your garden and let the birds feed directly from the source.
Animals need clean water to drink and bathe in, so make sure you provide at least one source, which can include a birdbath, river, or pond. If you call Pennsylvania home, even small pools of water can attract bullfrogs, the state’s largest frog species.
You’ll also need to provide at least two places for wildlife to find shelter from predators and the weather. Rock piles and stones placed near the edges of ponds will help attract common froglets. Ground cover such as juniper or moss phlox provide food and protection for wildlife such as birds, bees, and butterflies; they also protect topsoil from erosion and drought, and help prevent the growth of weeds.
Log piles or brush are excellent choices because they attract a variety of mammals, including rabbits, chipmunks, raccoons, and foxes, as well as reptiles and amphibians.
Places to raise young
In order to raise their young, animals need shelter. You can purchase a nesting box or build your own to attract various species of birds. And before you decide to haul away that dead tree in your yard, consider leaving it for bats, squirrels, and raccoons, who often make nests in their hollow cavities and crevices.
This may be obvious, but it’s also essential to eliminate all chemical pesticides and herbicides, which can kill wildlife and their food sources. And when you choose native plants for your garden rather than exotic plants, your habitat will require less water, and attract local, native wildlife because it contains the food they’re used to eating.
There’s another benefit you might not expect: “When you plant a diversity of native plants in your garden, you’ll be left with less issues with pests,” says Mizejewski. “Insects from ladybugs to dragonflies to predatory wasps, songbirds, bats, frogs, and toads all feed on pests, and none of them can be supported by a lawn and ornamental garden plants.”
How to certify your wildlife habitat
Head to the National Wildlife Federation’s checklist of elements your outdoor space needs in order to be certified. You can register your habitat online by filling out a quick application and submitting a $20 fee.
Once your garden is certified, you’ll receive a ton of cool perks, including a personalized certificate; a one-year membership to the federation and magazine subscription; and 10% off supplies such as nesting boxes, feeders, and more to help your miniature ecosystem flourish.