How to Create a Wildlife Habitat

in Your Landscape

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Male Downy Woodpecker

Male Downy Woodpecker
Photo Credit :Ken Thomas /Wikimedia Commons

Having beneficial wildlife in your landscape at home is the sure sign of a sustainable, healthy yard.   One of the best ways to encourage these small creatures to come is to build a wildlife habitat that provides for their basic needs.  Your  landscape will benefit tremendously, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing you are helping create a sustainable environment for all living creatures.

Helpful species to encourage in the landscape are birds, beneficial insects such as butterflies and pollinating bees as well as small amphibians.  Mammals are delightful to watch, but can become pests, so some extra planning is required.  

Of course, whether you live in an urban setting or someplace less developed will determine the kind and number of mammals already present.  You will have to decide in advance how you want to proceed with accommodating them.  Sometimes near the edges of your property you can safely meet their needs without causing damage to your home.  This article outlines basic concepts, and there is a video series provided by the National Wildlife Federation at the end for some helpful tips.

The Five Essential Wildlife Habitat Features
While every species has favorites, there are five essential ingredients for every wildlife habitat.

  1. Food   All living things need food. Feeders are always a great way to provide nutrition, but natural forage is better as a main source of good food.  You can insure the success of your landscape’s habitat by providing native shrubs, trees and herbaceous plants.  Native species are best, simply because this is what the wildlife find in the natural environment. 

    A variety of different kinds of food sources—fruit, nuts, berries and nectar will insure adequate supplies for most beneficial species.  You can check with your local Native Plant Society for more information on what grows best in your region.

  2. Water   Pure, clean water is essential for all wildlife.  They use it for drinking, washing, social gatherings and cooling off during the hot seasons.  Birdbaths, a bog garden or water garden and untreated water features such as small ponds or waterfalls will all provide safe water supplies.

  3. Cover   All wildlife need to feel safe, and that means being able to survive during severe weather.  Cover also gives wildlife a place to hide from humans and predators when the need arises.  Providing hedge or fence rows will facilitate safely moving from one place to another.    Piles of brush are particularly friendly for many creatures if your landscape will accommodate a little extra naturalization.

  4. Nesting Places  Safe nesting is important for the survival of every species.  Providing nesting boxes is a great way to protect the young wildlife.  Allowing snags (fallen tree limbs or trunks) near the edges of your property will also give a safe haven.  Mature trees and dense shrubs are other favorites of wildlife. 

  5. Sustainable Practices in the Landscape  Going green in your landscape and garden is one of the best things you can do for a wildlife habitat in your yard.  Use of toxic chemicals is incompatible with a sustainable healthy environment as well as wildlife habitat. For yourself, and for the critters, find alternative ways to fertilize and manage pests in your landscape. 

Your local cooperative extension agent is an excellent source of information on the benefits and requirements of a wildlife habitat.  They will have a recommended plant list and other valuable resources for you to use in your landscape.

Bryce Canyon Chipmunk
Bryce Canyon Chipmunk
Photo Credit: griff_girl/Photobucket




Here is a mini wildlife habitat video course on Certified Wildlife Habitats provided by the National Wildlife Federation. Short, informative and very helpful.

1. Certified Wildlife Habitats - Why Garden for Wildlife?


2. Certified Wildlife Habitats - Providing Food

3. Certified Wildlife Habitats - Water

4. Certified Wildlife Habitats - Shelter/Cover

5. Certified Wildlife Habitats - Places to Raise Young

6. Certified Wildlife Habitats -
Sustainable Practices

7. Certified Wildlife Habitats - Certifying Your Yard


USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service  -- Wildlife Habitat

National Wildlife Federation = Garden for Wildlife
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries – Habitat at Home®

Selected Resources

Habitat at Home® DVD from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries - covers water gardens,  butterfly gardens, water gardens, woodland gardens, and native plant gardens.   
The American Audubon Society = Audubon Guide to a Healthy Yard and Beyond
US EPA – Wild Ones, Landscaping with Native Plants

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