Size doesn't matter. Whether its an apartment balcony, postage stamp sized patch of green, or acres of rural terrain, your backyard, no matter what its size, can be certified by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) as a backyard wildlife habitat.
Certifying your backyard as a backyard wildlife habitat gives you the opportunity to take a close look at your landscape and make positive changes that can benefit wildlife.
By now you've surely heard of the benefits of getting kids (and yourself!) outdoors. Getting kids involved in the process of creating a backyard wildlife habitat gets them outdoors enjoying nature, learning invaluable lessons about animal habitats and ecosystems, and seeing the real-world benefits of organic growing practices.
Follow these 6 steps to turn your backyard into a backyard wildlife habitat:
1. Provide food for animals. Birds, bees, and small mammals prefer native plants. Learn which trees, bushes, and flowers are native to your area because they will grow best and provide the right food for the critters who frequent your yard. Think about growing Astor for bees, milkweed for monarch butterflies, and brightly colored plants to attract hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles.
In order to receive the NWF certification your backyard needs three of the following types of plants or supplemental feeders: seeds from a plant, berries, nectar, foliage/twigs, nuts, fruits, sap, pollen, suet, bird feeder, squirrel feeder, hummingbird feeder, butterfly feeder.
2. Provide water for animals. This is especially important for gardeners in drought-stricken areas such as California. Adding a bird bath to your backyard is an easy way to provide water. Make sure that the bath is refilled when it runs low and that it is cleaned out a couple times a week. Standing water is an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes, which you probably want to discourage, so be on guard against standing water in old tarps or dormant kiddie pools.
For NWF certification your backyard needs one of the following sources to provide clean water for wildlife to drink and bathe: birdbath, lake, stream, seasonal pool, ocean, water garden/pond, river, butterfly puddling area, rain garden, spring.
Image of girl with birdhouse via Shutterstock
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3. Provide cover. Just like you, animals need safe places to protect them from wind, rain, and excessive heat. Most likely, they will be able to find cover in the native vegetation you plant, but dead trees also work well.
Bird houses provide cover and are also fun to make. The options for making your own birdhouse (or bat house) are only limited by your imagination. Crafting the house is also a great opportunity to extol the benefits of recycling to your young helpers as you can use recyclable materials such as milk cartons, empty toilet paper rolls, and plastic soda bottles. Check out these fun birdhouses.
For NWF certification wildlife need at least two places to find shelter from the weather and predators: wooded area, bramble patch, ground cover, rock pile or wall, cave, roosting box, dense shrubs or thicket, evergreens, brush or log pile, burrow, meadow or prairie, water garden or pond.
4. Give animals a place to raise their young. This is an opportunity for you to have an age-appropriate conversation with the kiddos about the birds and bees because birds, bees, and small animals need to have safe places for courtship and reproduction. Think about where animals will feel safe and protected for starting their families, and also talk about how important reproduction is for the continued health of your backyard wildlife habitat.
For NWF certification you need at least two places for wildlife to engage in courtship behavior, mate, and raise their young: mature trees, meadow or prairie, nesting box, wetland, cave, host plants for caterpillars, dead trees or snags, dense shrubs or a thicket, water garden or pond, burrow.
5. Help wildlife to thrive. Here's where your organic practices pay off! Talk to kiddos about how birds and animals are negatively impacted by harmful chemicals. Help them to see how the organic practices that you use in your daily life, such as composting, have a positive effect in your backyard wildlife habitat. Compost that is made from kitchen scraps is used to feed the plants in your backyard and those plants are a vital part of the beneficial habitat you're creating. (Maybe singing a few choruses of "The Circle of Life" would be nice here, but that's not an essential step.)
6. Certify! The National Wildlife Federation makes the certification process easy. Check out their website for all the details. You'll receive a certificate in the mail that you can proudly display, but for superior bragging rights order the weather resistant sign that they offer.
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Birdfeeder image via Shutterstock