Creating a Wildlife Habitat in Your Backyard

When I first heard about the concept of establishing a backyard wildlife habitat, I thought, “Yeah, right. Nice for the folks who live down the in areas where trees and woodlands are an integral part of the landscape, but not for those of us living in more urban settings.” Sure, there are pockets of wildlife-friendly terrain in our neighborhood, but I certainly didn’t think I could support wildlife in my own backyard. We barely even have a backyard!

But, the more I learned about the effort and the resources available to help everyday families like ours to create wildlife-friendly spaces, the more inspired I became. It turns out that just about anyone can establish a wildlife habitat in one’s yard, even if that yard happens to be a balcony.

We will get to the “how” in a minute, but first the “why.”

According Doug Tallamy, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware and author of “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants,” (considered by many to be a naturalist’s bible) we are in a crisis. Tallamy describes how we have sterilized our landscapes making them less habitable for wildlife by overdeveloping our land and using non-native plants in our landscapes and gardens, among other things. In doing this we are creating imbalances in or our natural eco-systems and these imbalances introduce new predators and diseases, compete with native species for resources, reproduce quickly and spread aggressively. As a result, there are long-term implications for all species, including us.

My childhood home in Massachusetts is enveloped in nature. Cranberry bogs on one side, forest (now developed) on another, swamp to the rear, and an historic church and cemetery across the street. Bugs were everywhere and, thanks to an older brother taunting me as an infant with a plastic spider, I grew up irrationally afraid of all of them (with the exception of ladybugs, caterpillars, and perhaps a few others).

After I became a mom almost 10 years ago and I realized I did not want my kids to grow up with that same irrational fear, I began to rescue bugs inside the house and return them to natural settings. As neat as it is to see the kids do the same, I now realize, that protecting insects is not only the warm-and-fuzzy and right thing to do, it’s critical to our survival.

We are part of the integrated web of life. As Tallamy reminds us, we depend on other species, like insects, to pollinate our gardens, recycle our garbage, clean our air, etc. We need insects in order for humans to survive. When we do things that disturb the natural balance of our eco-systems, we are ultimately hurting ourselves.

In a healthy eco-system, native species have natural predators and so a balance is maintained: spiders eat bugs; birds eat spiders. If you sterilize your yard with pesticides, inadvertently killing off beneficial bugs, like lady bugs and grasshoppers while trying to keep mosquitos at bay, for example, you are removing the food source for the spiders (if the pesticides don’t kill them first). Without the bugs and without the spiders, you will lose the birds that eat those spiders.

This is why creating backyard wildlife habitats is so important. If even a handful of people within a city block increased the percentage of native plants in their gardens, they would be stitching together a patchwork of habitats to meet the needs of local wildlife and migrating species.

A healthy habitat offers:

  • Food (bird feeders, bushes with berries, flowers for nectar, etc.)
  • Water (birdbath, rain garden, rain pond)
  • Shelter for protection weather and predators and to raise young (bush, shrubs, brush pile)
  • Space (in which to find food, water, and shelter).

Creating a backyard wildlife habitat is easier than you think. Over the past few months, I have participated in three workshops that have explored why, provided lots of resources on how, inspired me to get involved in helping others to do the same.

Several organizations are part of a growing effort to encourage individuals, schools, and organizations to create wildlife habitats. Take a look at the following programs and see which one is the best fit for you. Better yet, explore all three!

  • National Audubon Society – Audubon at Home: They will send an Audubon at Home Ambassador to your site at your request to help you get started!
  • National Wildlife Federation – Garden for Wildlife
  • Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries – Habitat at Home

Each of these programs offers a wealth of resources on their websites to help you get started in creating your own wildlife habitat. If you choose, you can have your habitat certified by submitting an application detailing your efforts. Once you have met the criteria you can get a sign (fee for some) to display in your property, which can inspire others. Tallamy’s book, “Bringing Nature Home,” is also a wonderful resource.

In the few months that we have been taking active steps to create a more wildlife friendly yard (creating a brush pile, adding native plants, and installing a birdbath and bird feeder), we have seen more birds (including some we had never seen before, like our catbird), spiders, and bees.

If you already have a wildlife habitat in your backyard, please tell us about it in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

A version of this story originally appeared in my Green and Simple column on the Old Town Alexandria Patch.

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link through which I would receive a small percentage of proceeds as a result of purchases made through this link. This post is not sponsored, nor has the content of this blog been influenced by the affiliate link. As a work-at-home mom, I earn a tidbit of my living through advertising and affiliate programs and I appreciate your support!

Filed Under: Children and NatureEnvironmentGardeningNative PlantsWildlife

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  1. […] sales in Northern Virginia. I’ve written before about the benefits of planting natives in creating and sustaining habitats for native wildlife, and about the ecological issues with invasive species. Attend one of these sales to learn more […]

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