Backyard Wildlife Habitats

Create a Home for Wildlife – by Alice Nance

Do you know what crop covers the most American land? According to an article entitled To Mow or Grow: The Choice: A Lawn or an Ecosystem written in 1996 by Bret Rappaport, “Collectively, the USA boasts 25 million acres of residential lawn, an arsea roughly the size of New England”. You may be asking yourself, “What’s wrong with that? I like my lawn the way it is”! These lawns, which comprise the majority of our typical urban and suburban landscapes, require a lot of extra attention and pampering since most of them are planted with non-native species that need more water, fertilizers, and pesticides. To get an idea of just how much our lawns need in order to remain green and healthy take a look at the following estimates of consumption.

  • Lawns consume 30-60% of potable municipal water yearly
  • More than 70 million tons of chemical pesticides and 70 million tons of fertilizers are used each year on lawns
  • Per hour of operation, a typical lawn mower emits approximately 10-12 times as much polluting hydrocarbons as a typical automobile
  • Americans spend as much as $20 billion a year on lawn maintenance

A backyard planted for wildlifeThe good news is you can stop being a slave to your yards by creating a place that birds, frogs, butterflies and other creatures can call home! Ken Druse, author of The Natural Habitat Garden, challenges, “If even a fraction of America’s 38 million gardeners turned a quarter of their landscape into a wild garden (only one tenth of an acre each) there would be a measurable impact… a tremendously positive gain for America’s and the world’s, ecology”. The conversion of your lawn into a natural habitat landscape also helps offset the impact of commercial and residential development where it has eliminated most of the natural areas that are critical for wildlife. You can do your part to make the world a better place, starting in your own yard, by participating in the Backyard Wildlife Habitat program.

The National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat program, in which the Mississippi Wildlife Federation participates, can help you save a place for wildlife while opening your eyes and heart to the natural world at home, school, work, and in the community. All it takes is providing the four basic elements that all wildlife needs to survive: food, water, cover to protect against the elements and predators, and places to reproduce and bear young in safety. In providing food for wildlife, keep in mind that providing native vegetation that produces fruit, nuts, berries, nectar, and seeds throughout the seasons is the key to a successful habitat. This vegetation also doubles as valuable cover that is crucial to having wildlife in your habitat. If you would like to find out more about native plants in your area contact the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. You can search their native plant database by clicking here. If you have a specific gardening questions try asking Mr. Smarty Plants.  Should you need to speak with them directly call (512) 232-0100.

To learn more about what you can do to make a welcoming place for your favorite critters you may visit the Backyard Wildlife Habitat program’s web site or you can order a step-by-step starter packet or Wildlife Habitat Planning Guide by calling (585) 461-3092. These packets containing a prepaid application for certification of your wildlife habitat are also available at most Wild Birds Unlimited stores.

Backyard Wildlife Habitat CertificateAnother valuable resource that will keep wildlife enthusiasts intrigued for hours is This informative website has online field guides to help you identify everything from dragonflies to flying squirrels, Experts who can help you with even the toughest plant or wildlife related questions and regional lists of critters by zipcode.

If you think your yard already meets all the certification criteria by providing food, water, cover, and places to raise young for wildlife then you may apply online or download an application for certification from the web site or call (800) 822-9919. The certification component of the program is a way we like to acknowledge your efforts for providing a special place for wildlife and for being a responsible steward of the land. Since 1973 over 32,500 properties have been certified as official Backyard Wildlife Habitat sites. Once your application is approved you will receive a certificate with your own unique habitat number, an optional press release to go out to your local paper, the quarterly Habitats Newsletter, a letter from Larry J. Schweiger, President & Chief Executive Officer, additional information about habitats and the option of purchasing an attractive metal, weather resistant yard sign.

Your participation in the Backyard Wildlife Habitat program is an easy and enjoyable introduction to nature that can yield a lifelong commitment to conservation. It is one of many NWF efforts to educate, inspire, and assist people in protecting wildlife and the environment. So get involved today by checking out the many resources mentioned in this article or by contacting the Educators at NWF’s Gulf States Natural Resource Center in Austin, Texas at (512) 476-9805.

The nation’s largest member-supported conservation group, the National Wildlife Federation unites people from all walks of life to protect nature, wildlife, and the world we all share. NWF has educated and inspired families to uphold America’s conservation tradition since 1936.

About the Author: Alice Nance is National Wildlife Federation educator.