How To Create A Wildlife Habitat In Your Own Backyard

Follow these simple steps to create a habitat for creatures both great and small.

April 12, 2017
backyard hummingbird
SusanGaryPhotography/ Getty

There’s nothing quite like waking up to the sound of birds chirping, or watching bees buzz from flower to flower in your very own backyard. But if your landscape isn’t set up to mimic your local ecosystem, chances are you’re missing out on these natural wonders. 

Birds, bees, butterflies, and other wild critters naturally head for the most comfortable place to live. Meaning, you need to put out the welcome mat with food, water, shelter, and safety so they’re comfortable enough to stick around and raise their young.  Here’s how you can provide a sustainable habitat for your local wildlife. 


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Provide diverse food (and water)

Different animals eat different things. For a wildlife balance that naturally controls pests, include things like flowers, berries, seed-producing plants like sunflowers, and larval plants for butterflies and moths. Keep the crowds around with plants that multitask: flowering in one season and bearing fruits or seeds in another. (Just be sure to never plant a butterfly bush.) A few plants work fine if that’s what the space allows. When possible, mass several similar ones, making a “food court” for wildlife, for the biggest draw. Add water to your backyard in the form of a birdbath or small garden pond. 

Related: 5 Ways Your Garden Can Support The Local Wildlife

Provide a mix of niches

Animals inhabit different spots. Attract the most diversity with a stair-step design, from tall trees down to understory trees and large shrubs. Pile up rocks for cozy ground-level hideouts. Avoid blowing out all the leaf litter, since it harbors ground creatures and improves the soil quality.

Related: 7 Secrets To A High Yield Vegetable Garden, Even When You’re Short On Space

Don’t be too tidy

Leave the control-freak tendencies at the back door. After flowers feed the pollinators, let the seedheads go to the birds. And in winter, avoid cleaning up too fast, since browned-up plants still offer shelter and seeds for resident birds.


Related: 10 Plants You Should Never, Ever Grow

Accept some chomping

Adopt a “hole” new perspective when it comes to certain pests. Those springtime caterpillars serve a purpose: to feed baby birds. After all, plants recover after caterpillars chew their way into pupating adults, so there’s no reason to buy lady beetles and green lacewings to take them out before they become beautiful butterflies and moths.

Go a little wild

Be sure to do a little research into what specific plants will benefit the wildlife that is local to your region. The National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Habitat Program  is a great resource, offering tips for creating an ideal habitat, even in containers or on a balcony. Fact sheets include plant lists, techniques, and guides for feeding birds and building bat houses.