Start a backyard wildlife habitat by creating a home for wildlife in your own backyard

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It is a pleasure to see the beautiful birds, butterflies and other wild animals in your backyard.

As more land is consumed by industry, highways and other "development", our friends need to find new homes, and you can help by creating a home for them in your own backyard.

The essential ingredients for a backyard wildlife habitat are: food, water, shelter and places to raise young.

Food: Shrubs and trees provide fruits and seeds throughout the year. Some good choices are sweetgum, blueberry, sumac, bayberry, holly, viburnum, cotoneaster, and crabapple. Perennials and annuals are planted to provide nectar for both butterflies and hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds visit bee balm, pineapple sage, wild columbine, cardinal flower, and trumpet honeysuckle.

Butterflies enjoy butterfly weed, butterfly bush, lantana, purpleconeflower, garden phlox, zinnias, and Mexican sunflower.

Supplemental feeders provide nectar for hummingbirds in the summer months and provide a variety of seed (sunflower, niger, safflower, and millet) for birds throughout the year.

Water: A pedestal-mounted bird bath provides water and cools the birds in the hot summer months.

A small shallow water dish provides water for drinking and bathing. Placed on the ground, this simple bird bath also provides water for mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

Small ponds, easily constructed in most home landscapes, provide an aquatic home for dragonflies, fish, newts, frogs, and other aquatic life.

A thermostatically controlled bird bath heater provides water during subfreezing weather when the need for water is critical for a backyard habitat for birds.

Shelter: A number of evergreen trees and shrubs provide year-round protective cover from weather and predators.

Good choices are: juniper; yew; grapeholly; Austrian Pine, and hollies.

Deciduous shrubs offer effective summer cover for nesting and escaping predators.

Red-twig dogwood, bayberry, viburnums, and cotoneasters are good shrubs for massing for your backyard habitat.

Rock, log, and mulch piles offer effective cover.

Small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and a great variety of insects and other small animals find homes in these structures.

Places to Raise Young: Nest boxes for bluebirds, chickadees, wrens, and purple martins can be placed in your backyard habitat.

Evergreens, deciduous trees, and shrubs provide additional nesting areas for birds.

Rabbits, shrews, mice, snakes, and salamanders lay their eggs or raise young under boughs of plants as well as in the rock, log, or mulch piles.

Aquatic animals, such as frogs, toads, and newts deposit their eggs in the ponds.

Butterfly eggs and caterpillars find safety among the herbs, flowers, shrubs, and trees.

Start by examining what your yard already provides in these 4 essential areas.

Then begin introducing new elements (plantings, shelters, feeders, water, etc.) to supplement and enhance your home for wild life.

Why should I garden for wildlife and certify my yard as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat site?

1. It's fun! You'll attract beautiful songbirds, cheerful butterflies and other interesting wildlife to your yard. Watching wildlife can be fun for the whole family.

2. It's relaxing! The natural environment of your habitat will provide a peaceful place to relieve stress and unwind, day or night.

3. It makes your yard more attractive! Replacing barren lawn with beautiful wildflowers and other native plants will increase the appeal of your property and will provide a nurturing place for wildlife.

4. It nurtures and supports wildlife all year! Habitat restoration is critical for wildlife where commercial and residential development has eliminated most natural areas. Wildlife especially need your help during the cold winter months.

5. It benefits the environment! Gardening practices that help wildlife, like reducing chemicals and conserving water, also help to improve air, water and soil quality throughout your neighborhood.

6. It rewards you! NWF will recognize your dedication to creating a place for wildlife in the modern world. When your habitat is certified, you'll receive a handsome, personalized Certificate of Achievement suitable for framing, recognizing your yard as part of the National Registry of Backyard Wildlife Habitat sites. With your permission, NWF will also send a prepared press release to your local newspaper announcing your certification.

7. It expands your gardening knowledge and lets you share your love of wildlife with others! Once certified, you'll receive a subscription to the quarterly newsletter, Habitats, providing you with a steady supply of tips and projects to maintain your Backyard Wildlife Habitat site year after year.

8. If your yard is certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat site, you are eligible to order and post an attractive yard sign to convey to your friends and neighbors your commitment to wildlife conservation and the environment.

9. As soon as you certify your yard or garden space, you will automatically become a member of National Wildlife Federation with full membership benefits, including a year's subscription to the award winning National Wildlife magazine.

Here are more resources for backyard wildlife habitats.

The Complete Backyard Wildlife Habitat Nature Activity Book by Robin Michal Koontz.

From an apartment - rail hummingbird feeder to a backyard wildlife habitat bat house, from a butterfly-friendly window box to a nest full of baby swallows, here are simple instructions for creating inviting, easy-to-make feeders and backyard wildlife habitats that will attract insects, birds, squirrels, bats, frogs, and other small creatures.

Many of the projects use recycled materials. These enjoyable science-based backyard wildlife habitat activities are accompanied by attractive illustrations and amazing anecdotes, facts, and insights into the lifestyle of creatures that you will be able to observe in your own backyard wildlife habitat.

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