Bring nature home by creating a wildlife haven in your own backyard.

Creating a backyard that attracts native wildlife is not only fun and rewarding, it also helps promote biodiversity and protect our natural ecosystems. Attracting birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife can be done with a few simple steps and doesn’t require a lot of space or resources.

Why attract native wildlife?

By providing food, water, shelter and habitat, you can transform your backyard into a thriving and sustainable ecosystem that supports local wildlife. But why should you?

  • Promotes biodiversity: Having a variety of healthy native species is essential for maintaining strong and resilient ecosystems. By providing habitats and food sources for various native species, you can contribute to the local biodiversity.
  • Helps control pests: Birds and bats eat insects and other pests that can damage your garden or home. Attracting these species and others helps reduce the need for chemical pesticides and other controls that can harm the environment and our health.
  • Enhances natural beauty: Watching birds and butterflies flutter around your garden is a calming experience that can help you connect with nature.
  • Provides educational opportunities: Most people learn best by doing. Observing and learning about different species can help you and your family gain a better understanding of the natural world and how it functions.
  • Helps with conservation efforts: As habitat loss and fragmentation continue to threaten native populations, creating a wildlife-friendly environment in your own backyard can help contribute to conservation efforts at the local level.

Related: Backyard Wildlife Habitat

A monarch butterfly feasts on nectar from the common milkweed plant, a native North American plant that thrives east of the Rockies.

Steps involved in creating a backyard for native wildlife

The good news is that attracting native wildlife isn’t hard: you just need the right elements. We’ve compiled a list of the basic steps below to make the process easy and enjoyable.

1. Assess your backyard

Take a walk around your yard and look for areas that could be transformed into a habitat for native wildlife. This includes open spaces for birds to perch, brushy areas for small mammals to hide, and water sources like ponds, birdbaths or small water fountains. In addition, evaluate the current state of your backyard, including the type of soil, the presence of invasive species, and the level of sun exposure. All of these factors have a significant impact on the types of plants and wildlife that can thrive.

2. Identify potential hazards.

After identifying potential habitats and conditions, it’s time to identify any hazards that could harm native wildlife. Check for any chemical usage, such as pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers, which can have adverse effects on native birds and animals. Look for sharp edges or corners, openings in fences or sharp objects where wildlife might become ensnared. Avoid using plastic mesh fencing in the yard and garden, as this can entrap and kill songbirds. And don’t forget the cat: if you own a pet that likes to chase wildlife, consider creating an area where your pet can’t go or try a bell.

Related: How to Make Your Yard More Bird-Friendly

3. Incorporate native plants and vegetation.

Native plants are the foundation for any native wildlife habitat, providing food, shelter, and protection that native species recognize. Use the following tips to help native plants thrive.

native plants

Native plants can bring a broad array of wildlife to your garden for food and shelter. From left to right: Audubon certified Jersey Tea, Dogwood and Potted Rose.

  • Choose the right plants: Start by researching native plants that are well-suited for your local climate and soil conditions. Consider the size, shape and color of the plants, as well as their blooming periods and other seasonal characteristics. Choose plants that provide food, shelter and nesting materials for local wildlife (see table for examples below).
  • Plan your design: Before planting, sketch out a plan for your garden, taking into account the size and placement of each plant. Group plants with similar climatic and watering needs together and consider the height and growth habits of each plant to ensure that they will complement each other.
  • Nourish your soil: Native plants are well-adapted to the local soil conditions, but you may still need to amend your soil to ensure that it provides the right nutrients and drainage. Test your soil to determine its pH and nutrient content, and then amend it as needed.
  • Plant your garden: Once you have your plants and your plan, it’s time to start planting. Dig holes that are slightly larger than the root balls of your plants and make sure to plant them at the same depth they were in their original containers. Water your plants thoroughly after planting, and then continue to water them regularly until they are established.

Related: Grow a Beautiful Pollinator Garden

Native Plant Name
Native Wildlife That May Benefit
Native Jersey TeaPlant in full sun to part shade. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8.Hummingbirds and songbirds.
Native Red ChokeberryPlant in full sun to part shade. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9.Provides food and shelter for local and migrating birds.
Native DogwoodPlant in full sun to part shade. USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9.Thrushes, cardinals, grosbeaks, waxwings, mockingbirds and jays.
Native RosesPlant in full sun. USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8.Warblers, chickadees, wrens, indigo buntings, and vireos. Blossoms benefit bees and other pollinators.
Native WillowPlant in full sun. USDA Hardiness Zones 2-8.Chickadees, titmice, sparrows, wood warblers, thrushes, wrens, woodpeckers, mockingbirds, thrashers, crows, jays, waxwings, vireos, cardinals, grosbeaks, nuthatches and orioles.
Native American Highbush CranberryPlant in full sun to part shade. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-7.Thrushes, cardinals and waxwings.
Native River BirchPlant in full sun to part shade. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9.Chickadees, titmice, cardinals, crossbills, tanagers, sparrows and siskins.
Native OakPlant in full sun to part shade. USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9.Cardinals, grosbeaks, wrens, woodpeckers, sparrows, thrushes, orioles, waxwings, nuthatches, finches, mockingbirds, thrashers, crows, jays and vireos
Native Southern MagnoliaPlant in full sun to part shade. USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10.Thrushes, waxwings, wood warblers, finches, mockingbirds, thrashers, chickadees, titmice, orioles, cardinals, grosbeaks, crows, jays, sparrows, nuthatches, vireos, hummingbirds, woodpeckers and wrens.
Native Honey LocustPlant in full sun. USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8.Crows, starlings and bobwhite quail.

4. Provide a water source.

The type of water source that’s best for attracting native wildlife depends on the species you’re trying to attract. In general, a natural, shallow water source works best. This can include a small pond, a bird bath, or a shallow pool. The water should be changed regularly to prevent algae and bacteria. Adding a small fountain or waterfall can help to keep the water fresh and provide a soft noise that attracts birds and other wildlife. A sloping edge or rocks in the water provides easy access for animals to drink or bathe and a place for small fish and insects to live.

5. Build habitats and shelters

Providing a diversity of habitats is key to supporting a range of wildlife. This includes providing open spaces, brushy areas and water sources like ponds or bird baths. Including natural features like rocks, logs and dead trees can also create habitats and hiding places for animals. As noted above, planting native plants and flowers can provide food, shelter, and nesting materials for birds and insects. Additionally, creating specific features such as birdhouses, bat boxes, butterfly hotels and bee condos can provide additional shelter for specific species.

Adding birdhouses or feeders to your yard can help introduce native birds back into areas long vacated.

Related: Bat Houses for Natural, Non-Toxic Mosquito Control

6. Avoid the use of harmful chemicals

Chemicals are everywhere these days, both in our household and in our environments. But some chemicals are less benign than others, especially when it comes to supporting native wildlife.

  • Pesticides and herbicides: These chemicals are designed to kill insects and plants, but can also harm beneficial wildlife like native bees and butterflies, along with the birds and small mammals that eat exposed insects.
  • Fertilizers: Fertilizers can be harmful to wildlife if they contain high levels of nitrogen or phosphorus. When these chemicals enter waterways, they can cause algal blooms that can harm fish and other aquatic life. Opting for organic fertilizers avoids high concentrations of these substances.
  • Synthetic fragrances: Synthetic fragrances found in air fresheners, cleaning products, and other household items can be harmful to birds and insects. They can disrupt the natural communication and navigation systems of these animals, making it harder for them to find food and mates.
  • Heavy metals: Heavy metals like lead and mercury can be toxic to wildlife. These metals can enter the environment through paints, batteries and electronic waste.
  • Chlorine: Chlorine is commonly used in swimming pools and can be harmful to wildlife if it enters waterways. It can kill fish and other aquatic life and can harm birds and mammals that drink contaminated water.
  • Paints and stains: Oil-based deck stains and paints can be harmful to all manner of wildlife. While choosing “no VOC” is one option, we recommend Eco-Wood treatment for staining natural wood. This non-toxic preservative penetrates wood, buffering against fungus and water for lifelong protection.

Wildlife friendly all year long

By providing food, water, shelter and habitat, you can create a thriving ecosystem that supports local wildlife, including birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators. In addition to providing natural benefits, creating a wildlife-friendly backyard can be a fun and rewarding project for your family. Whether you have a small balcony or a large backyard, there are many ways to attract native wildlife and create a thriving ecosystem in your own backyard.

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