Want to see more birds, butterflies and other wildlife in your yard? You don’t need a big field or woods to get in on the fun. The key is to make whatever space you have – a porch, a balcony, your backyard, a school or work property –inviting for non-domestic animals, like birds, insects, rabbits, bats, frogs, turtles and more. The National Wildlife Federation lists four keys to creating a wildlife habitat:
- Food – Plant native shrubs and trees to provide the foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds, nuts and other food sources that most wildlife species need to survive. Augment with supplemental feeders and food, like blocks of suet or seed suspended from a tree branch or hanger. The National Wildlife Federation recommends you have at least three food sources. I don’t have bird feeders, but I do have a lot of bushes and trees that bear berries, like hollies and mulberries.
- Water – All animals need clean water so they can take a bath, drink, and reproduce. I put in a small pond, and also have a couple of birdbaths around my yard. Other water sources may include lakes, rivers, oceans, springs, and rain gardens. Be sure to change the water frequently in something like a birdbath, and keep water circulating in a pond to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
- Protective Cover – Many animals need shelter to keep them safe from people and predatory animals. Native vegetation, thickets and brush piles, and even dead trees can do the trick. I’ve created a thick brush pile over the years using sticks and branches I’ve trimmed from my trees or picked up after a storm. I put up a wren house behind my own home and away from traffic. I’ve also planted a lot of viburnum, which have the kind of integrated branches and leaves that make perfect and hidden platforms for birds’ nests.
- A Place to Raise Their Babies – Birds need boughs or houses where they can safely nest. Butterflies need spots to lay their eggs. Bat houses provide safe spots for bats to roost.
If you want to ensure your yard adequately invites wildlife, consider getting your yard certified by the National Wildlife Federation. I got my own property certified several years ago and have been enjoying the wildlife ever since.
When I sit at my home office and look out the window, I can usually count 10 or 15 different species of birds flying by on any given day, including chickadees, wrens, robins, cardinals, blue jays, catbirds, woodpeckers, swallows, vireos and bright yellow goldfinches. We’ve had foxes nesting (which is both positive and negative), and turtles and frogs in our pond. One morning I woke to find a mother deer and two fawns strolling through my front yard – and I live a block from the Washington, DC border!
To get certified, there’s a $20 fee, but that entitles you to a personalized certificate commemorating your achievement as well as a subscription to the organization’s magazine, a subscription to the e-Newsletter Wildlife Online – Habitats Edition, and 10% off merchandise you might want to buy from NWF’s catalog. You can also get a metal sign to post in your yard.
If you’ve already gotten your yard certified, share you stories here. What wildlife are you spotting? Let us know.
And if you want to do even more to ensure butterflies keep visiting your yard, consider signing this petition asking the EPA to protect monarch butterflies from dangerous pesticides like Roundup.