The needs and rewards of a backyard wildlife habitat

Story and Photography by Yvonne Lelong Bordelon

If you appreciate wildlife and the outdoors like I do, then you may enjoy creating a wildlife habitat in your own backyard. You don’t have to have a large piece of land. Our first registered habitat, back in the mid 1980s, was on a ½-acre suburban lot.

In the fall, native asters such as this willowleaf (Symphyotrichum praealtum) provide pollen and nectar for honeybees and native bees as they prepare for winter.

With environmental catastrophes such as the colony collapse disorder of honeybees and the destruction of natural habitat that often results from real estate development, many homeowners across the nation are choosing to invite wildlife, especially pollinators, into their yards by using organic landscaping methods and adding sustainable wildlife-friendly plants.

Milkweed bug adults and nymphs feed on milkweed seeds as seen on this A. viridis seedpod. If you want milkweed seeds to spread, just hose the nymphs off of the plant with water.

No matter which animals you’d like to attract, the requirements necessary for their survival are the same. By providing food, water, shelter, and nesting sites in your yard, you can increase the biodiversity of the ecosystem while taking advantage of the natural life cycle of predator, prey, and producer to aid in pest control and soil enrichment.

Eastern box turtles are garden friends. They eat snails, grubs, beetles, caterpillars, carrion, fallen fruit, and berries.

To begin your project, first take note of the existing plants and features in your yard. Then sketch out a simple design showing features you’d like to add to provide the four basic needs listed below.

A green tree frog is perfectly camouflaged among the leaves of a giant coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima). Purple Verbena ‘Homestead’ and pink Oxalis attract butterflies to the garden.

Groups of fruiting, seed-bearing, and nectar-rich flowering trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, and annuals (especially natives) will provide food for many animal species. If you want to increase the number of butterflies and moths, include host plants for their larvae. Feeders for birds and hummingbirds placed for easy viewing will enhance your enjoyment while also helping these colorful visitors.

Native swamp sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius) and cypressvine (Ipomoea quamoclit) are visited by native bees, honeybees, and butterflies. Small songbirds eat their seeds.

Adding a birdbath or water garden will improve the landscape while creating an ecosystem for such creatures as dragonflies, frogs, fish, and turtles. The sound of moving water also attracts birds and other animals, giving them a place to bathe and drink.

This female rufous hummingbird sits among the red berries of a yaupon holly in our backyard wildlife habitat.

Shelter and Nesting Sites
Evergreen trees and shrubs planted on the north side of your home will provide a wind block from cold winter winds and, along with a brush pile or brambles, will provide cover for wildlife as well as places to raise their young.

A beautiful male eastern bluebird sits on top of a sturdy cypress birdhouse waiting for his ladylove to take a look inside.

Leaving dead limbs and trees standing (if they are not threatening structures or power lines) will offer natural nesting sites for birds and animals such as woodpeckers, wood ducks, flying squirrels, and honeybees.

Building nest boxes designed for specific birds as well as bat houses for mosquito-eating bats will help proliferate the species and attract a variety of beneficial animals to your yard.

Be sure to include a place for you and your family to relax and observe the wonders of the sanctuary you have created. Keeping a journal or photographic record of the animals that visit can be an enjoyable pastime.



You can find more information about creating a backyard wildlife habitat at the National Wildlife Federation’s website, The North American Bluebird Society offers free bluebird nest box plans at and specifications for building nest boxes for other birds can be found at Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife –

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