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How to Turn Your Own Backyard Into a Certified Wildlife Habitat

Jennifer is an environmentalist from Ohio. She is passionate about advocating for the planet and wildlife through gardening and education.

Show your commitment to helping wildlife by proudly displaying your Certified Wildlife Habitat sign in your garden or yard.

Show your commitment to helping wildlife by proudly displaying your Certified Wildlife Habitat sign in your garden or yard.

What is a Certified Wildlife Habitat?

A National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat is a property that is certified by the NWF as meeting their requirements for a habitat that supports local wildlife. Anyone can certify their property as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by first ensuring that the property meets all the requirements set forth by the NWF, then applying on their website and paying a small fee. Just about any type of property can become a Certified Wildlife Habitat, but this article will focus on your own backyard. It is easier than you think to implement everything you need for your garden or yard to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Part of my garden, as of July 2021.

Part of my garden, as of July 2021.

Requirements for Certified Wildlife Habitats

There are five requirements for your yard to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat: your yard must provide wildlife with food, water, cover, and places to raise their young, while also employing sustainable practices in maintaining your habitat. Specifically, your yard must provide:

  • At least three sources of food for wildlife.
  • At least one source of water.
  • At least two places for wildlife to take cover from bad weather and predators.
  • At least two places for wildlife to raise their young.
  • And finally, you must employ practices from at least two of the three sustainable practices categories (soil and water conservation, controlling exotic species, and organic practices) in maintaining and managing your wildlife habitat.
A Monarch butterfly has already discovered my newly-planted swamp milkweed next to my house.

A Monarch butterfly has already discovered my newly-planted swamp milkweed next to my house.

Food

The first thing your garden needs to become a wildlife habitat is at least three sources of food for native wildlife. Food sources can include bird feeders that you fill and maintain (be sure to keep them clean and full), or natural food sources from your garden plants including seeds, pollen, nectar, sap, and fruits.

There are several options if you would like to add feeders. In my garden, in addition to many plants that provide sustenance for wildlife, I have regular bird feeders that provide sunflower seed, a suet feeder, and a hummingbird feeder. If you choose to provide feeders, be sure to clean them regularly and refill them as needed. Hummingbird feeders are particularly sensitive to needing regular cleaning to prevent mold build-up that can endanger hummingbirds (and remember, never add anything other than plain white sugar and water to your hummingbird feeder. Things like red dye or honey are dangerous to hummingbirds). Some people also choose to include squirrel feeders.

For more natural food sources, consider planting native plants that provide food sources to wildlife, such as nectar, pollen, sap, fruits and nuts, or seeds. Pollinators such as monarch butterflies and bees rely on native flowers to survive, so consider planting some of their favorites, such as milkweed, coneflower, and bee balm.

I installed a birdbath before I even finished preparing and planting this part of my garden.

I installed a birdbath before I even finished preparing and planting this part of my garden.

Water

In addition to food, the animals and insects living in your garden also need water. To meet the requirements for an official Certified Wildlife Habitat, your garden needs to include at least one source of clean water for wildlife to drink and bathe.

If you are lucky enough to have a pond, river, or stream on your property, you are all set. These natural water sources are already providing the wildlife in your garden with the fresh water they need to survive. If you don’t already have a natural water source in your yard, don’t worry. There are several easy options to provide your wildlife visitors with fresh, clean water.

In my garden, I have a standard birdbath with a solar fountain, a mini birdbath near some of my bird feeders, and two small water dishes with steppingstones next to my toad house for my amphibian and insect friends.

Other options include installing an artificial pond, creating a butterfly puddling area, or creating a rain garden. If your water source includes standing water, such as birdbaths and water dishes, be sure to change the water and clean the containers often.

A toad house in my garden. If you look very closely, you can see a toad climbing into the house on the left side. He blends into his environment very well, camouflaging him from potential predators.

A toad house in my garden. If you look very closely, you can see a toad climbing into the house on the left side. He blends into his environment very well, camouflaging him from potential predators.

Cover

In addition to food and water, the wildlife which call your garden home also need shelter. To qualify as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, your garden needs at least two forms of cover from extreme weather and temperatures or predators. Many forms of cover that you could provide may also fulfill the requirement for places for wildlife to raise young.

In my own garden, I have a toad house, where toads can seek shelter from predators and inclement weather, which I made from stacked rocks. I also have a bat box installed on the side of my garage to attract and house bats. Other forms of cover I employ in my home wildlife habitat are shrubs, ground cover plants that various types of critters can use as cover, and a small pile of decaying logs.

Some more ideas for wildlife cover you can include in your garden are nesting boxes, bramble patches, rock piles, and artificial ponds.

I only recently installed this bat box. So far, I haven't noticed any new bat friends moving in yet, however.

I only recently installed this bat box. So far, I haven't noticed any new bat friends moving in yet, however.

Places to Raise Young

Your backyard wildlife also needs places to mate and to raise their young, in addition to simple cover and shelter. To certify your yard as an official Certified Wildlife Habitat, you will need to provide at least two such places. Keeping a stable breeding population is one of the most important considerations when thinking about the conservation of native wildlife species. For many species you will find in your backyard or garden, the same places that provide cover can also double as a place to raise young.

In my own garden, I have recently installed a bat box, which is a small wooden box where bats can roost during the day. These are great places for bats to raise baby bats. I also have planted several beds of milkweed, which are, in addition to being a favorite food source for Monarch butterflies, are also the only place where Monarchs lay their eggs. These plants are the only food source that Monarch caterpillars will eat, so you can see why they are so important to include in a backyard wildlife habitat. There are also several trees and bushes around my yard where I sometimes find birds’ nests.

Other ideas for places where wildlife can raise their young include mature trees, nesting boxes for birds, dead trees or snags, or water gardens and ponds.

Worm castings in my Worm Factory 360 worm bin.

Worm castings in my Worm Factory 360 worm bin.

Sustainable Practices

To certify your wildlife habitat, you also need to employ sustainable practices in the management of your property. The National Wildlife Federation outlines three categories of sustainable practices, of which you need to employ practices from at least two categories.

The sustainable practice categories outlined by the NWF are as follows:

  • Soil and Water Conservation: Riparian Buffer • Capture Rain Water from Roof • Xeriscape (water-wise landscaping) • Drip or Soaker Hose for Irrigation • Limit Water Use • Reduce Erosion (i.e. ground cover, terraces) • Use Mulch • Rain Garden
  • Controlling Exotic Species: Practice Integrated Pest Management • Remove Non-Native Plants and Animals • Use Native Plants • Reduce Lawn Areas
  • Organic Practices: Eliminate Chemical Pesticides • Eliminate Chemical Fertilizers • Compost

In the soil and water conservation category, I use mulch and try to limit my water use. I currently collect excess water from my central air system to use in my garden (this water is also great for uses that require distilled water, such as watering carnivorous plants such as Venus flytraps and Sundews) and will be implementing rainwater collection soon.

For the controlling exotic species category, I keep my cats indoors, away from the native wildlife (for both the wellbeing of the wildlife and my cats!), I remove invasive weeds as I encounter them, I have planted a number of native plant species, and I have replaced lawn areas with flowerbeds (additional lawn areas will be converted to flowerbeds in the future).

Finally, in the organic practices category I do not use chemical pesticides, I am reducing the amount of chemical fertilizers I use and switching entirely to natural fertilizers, and I do several forms of composting including a traditional compost pile, a worm bin, and a bokashi bucket.

A coneflower blooming in my garden. Coneflowers are a favorite of pollinators!

A coneflower blooming in my garden. Coneflowers are a favorite of pollinators!

Benefits of Certifying Your Yard as a Wildlife Habitat

Aside from the obvious benefits of helping native wildlife in your own backyard, registering your property as a Certified Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation comes with a few extra perks. When you become a member of the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife Community by certifying your property, you will receive:

  • a personalized certificate
  • a one-year membership for the NWF, complete with a subscription to National Wildlife magazine (your choice of print or digital)
  • a subscription to the monthly Garden for Wildlife e-newsletter, which contains gardening tips, wildlife stories, and other resources to help with your gardening adventures
  • Optional garden signs to show your neighbors that your garden is a Certified Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation (signs are available at an additional fee. There are different types available)

Resources

  • National Wildlife Federation - Certify Your Habitat
    Anyone can create a welcoming haven for local wildlife. Turning your yard, balcony container garden, schoolyard, work landscape, or roadside green space into a Certified Wildlife Habitat® is fun, easy and makes a big difference for neighborhood wildl

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Jennifer Wilber

Comments

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on August 10, 2021:

I do not know a certify wild life garden is tenable at a back of a house. I would have bought the idea if my house has a very big back yard. Thanks for selling this information.

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