Make your yard wildlife-friendly

By Stacy Merrell (

Article Published: Jan. 30, 2013 | Modified: Jan. 30, 2013
Make your yard wildlife-friendly

Backyard habitats can be home to a variety of wildlife, big and small.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

One of the benefits of living in the High Country is our proximity to native forest and wildlife.

However, it is becoming more difficult for the land to sustain wildlife because of human population growth and development of previously unused land.

You can help by making your yard wildlife friendly and welcoming for animals.

A great place to start is the National Wildlife Association’s (NWA) website. They provide information on “backyard habitats” and will even certify your yard as wildlife friendly.

There are four aspects that are considered: food, water, cover and place to raise young. These can be provided in an infinite variety of ways, in rural or urban areas, with acres of land or a deck or balcony.

It is important to consider a few things before deciding what you want to attract. Ask yourself a few questions. What is already available to work with? If you have pets, how will they interact with the animals that are attracted?

Will you be attracting animals that you do not want? The NWA does not recommend attracting animals that can knock over trash cans.

Other than being beautiful to watch, there are ways that wildlife can be beneficial to have around. For example, bats can make a great contribution to your livelihood by controlling flying insects. A nursing little brown bat mother can eat more than her body weight nightly – up to 4,500 insects.
Other animals that the NWA recommends to attract to your yard are birds, butterflies and amphibians, like toads or frogs.

Food is best provided with native plants. Particular animals have preferences of what they want to eat, and a variety of food types will create a more varied visitation to your yard. These could be berries, fruits, nectar, sap or foliage/twigs. Food can also come in the form of seed, butterfly feeders, bird or squirrel feeders.

Water is an essential consideration for a habitat. Birdbaths and water features, like fountains, can be part of the mix. Areas that puddle are not something always thought of, but are a valid way to provide water.

You are very fortunate when lakes, streams, ponds or rivers are part of your land, but they’re not necessities to have a certified backyard habitat.

Using sustainable gardening practices, like mulching, reducing lawn areas, removing invasive plant species and using native plants, will also add to the quality of your yard.

Cover provides wildlife with shelter or a place to nest. Dead trees, wooded areas, brambles, ground cover, rock piles or walls, shrubs or thickets are all possibilities. Man-made items may be birdhouses, toad abodes and bat houses.

A place to raise young is the last consideration to provide a habitat. Mature trees, nesting boxes, wetlands, meadows, host plants for caterpillars, and dead trees are just some of the options.

Providing a habitat is a great way to teach young children about animals and ecology and is used in some schools. A more natural environment provides beauty and lessens stress, so everyone benefits from a backyard habitat.

If you have a question concerning flora and fauna, please email ( All of your questions will be answered. One will be featured next week. See you on the trails!

Stacy Merrell is an interpretive volunteer on the Blue Ridge Parkway. She is a certified naturalist through the Yellowstone Association Institute.

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