Do you enjoy hearing birds chirping in the trees, seeing butterflies fluttering among the flowers, and watching rabbits hopping through the grass? Do you care about wild animals, conservation, and the environment? Are you looking for a project to do for National Wildlife Week? How would you like to create a wildlife habitat so the birds, butterflies, and other creatures can live right in your own backyard?
A habitat is a native environment that contains everything needed for wildlife survival. With all the imperiled habitats worthy of attention, many people overlook the fact that the one they have the most power to help is right in their own backyard! As communities grow and develop, the homes of birds, beneficial insects, and other wild creatures are lost. Development also reduces the variety of native plants, replacing them with imported landscape plants. A backyard wildlife habitat can restore native plants in addition to providing a welcoming oasis for wild creatures.
The basic elements of a backyard wildlife habitat are: water, food, shelter and places to raise young. Some of these may already exist in your yard. A few additions (plantings, water, feeders, shelters, etc.) can effectively enhance your home for wildlife. A water source may be a shallow pan of water, a birdbath, fountain, mister, or pond. A variety of native plants will provide shelter or cover as well as a natural food supply for wildlife. For more detailed examples and other helpful habitat hints, see www.knowledgehouse.info/njfkbackyard.html.
Wildlife habitats can be beneficial for people as well as animals. Making a backyard wildlife habitat is very rewarding. You will spend a lot of family time together planning, planting, and then exploring the wildlife sanctuary you made. When the animals move in, you will be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the wildlife. Intimacy with nature – earth and water, beast and bird, herb and tree – enriches one's personal well-being. Watching wildlife can be very therapeutic.
Wild creatures hold unbounded interest and delight, especially for children. Children are born naturalists. They might even be considered part of the fauna of a landscape. They have an intrinsic love of nature and a basic need to go on daily foraging expeditions, looking under rocks and logs, climbing trees, and discovering the wonders that await them there. As the 19th century British educator Charlotte Mason said, “every common miracle which the child sees with his own eyes makes of him for the moment another Newton.”
A backyard wildlife habitat provides endless opportunities for nature walks, watching seasonal cycles and weather patterns, practicing observation skills, flora and fauna identification, keeping nature diaries, picture painting, and nature photography. A pure sense of beauty comes from early contact with nature. Children who grow up with an interest in nature studies will also be learning about many fields of science including botany, zoology, geology, ecology, and geography.
You need not be a biologist, landscape designer, or environmental engineer to certify your backyard wildlife habitat. Anyone who provides the four basic habitat elements may apply. In the past 30 years, the National Wildlife Federation has officially certified over 50,000 backyard wildlife habitats. They even offer special certifications for schools, workplaces, and communities. There is an information kit that you can order, which contains The Backyard Naturalist book, a planning guide, and an application. Once your habitat is registered, they will send you a certificate. You can also get an official Backyard Wildlife Habitat sign to post in your yard. For more information, call 1-800-822-9919 or visit www.nwf.org/backyardwildlifehabitat.
Our property was registered in 1990 as Backyard Wildlife Habitat #8496. The natural Sonoran desert vegetation on our two acres consists of about 50 paloverde trees, 12 mesquite trees, creosote bushes, desert broom, brittlebush, prickly pear, cholla and other cacti. Wild animals that have taken up residence in our yard include: rabbits, ground squirrels, rock squirrels, and many birds such as quail, doves, cactus wrens, thrashers, flycatchers, hummingbirds, cardinals, and woodpeckers. Javelinas and coyotes are regular visitors. A gila monster sought refuge in our yard one time. A loggerhead shrike, which is an endangered bird species, stopped by one day. Once I even came face-to-face with a mule deer at our birdbath! More recently, we saw a bobcat right outside our window.
Did You Know...? National Wildlife Week is April 22-30. On the weekend of April 28-30, friends and family are invited to go outdoors and observe wildlife while participating in a national scavenger hunt. See www.nwf.org/nationalwildlifeweek for details. Arizona is a state rich in wildlife resources, with more than 800 species of fish and animals including 136 mammals, 94 reptiles and nearly 500 types of birds. See how many of them you can find!
“America's Favorite Backyard Wildlife,” by Kit and George Harrison.
“Attracting Backyard Wildlife,” by Bill Meriless.
“The Backyard Naturalist,” by Craig Tufts.
“Backyard Pets,” by Carol Amato.
“Beastly Abodes,” by Bobbe Needham.
“The Complete Backyard Nature Activity Book,” by Robin Michal Koontz.
“National Wildlife Federation Guide to Gardening for Wildlife,” by Craig Tufts and Peter Loewer.
“The Natural Habitat Garden,” by Ken Druse and Margaret Roach.
“Noah's Garden” and “Planting Noah’s Garden,” by Sara Stein.
“There's a Bobcat in My Backyard,” by Jonathan Hanson.
“Welcoming Wildlife to the Garden,” by Catherine J. Johnson, et al.
“Where Once There Was a Wood,” by Denise Fleming.
“The Wildlife Gardener,” by James V. Dennis.
“Your Backyard Wildlife Garden” and “Your Backyard Wildlife Year,” by Marcus Schneck.
www.nwf.org/backyardwildlifehabitat (NWF Backyard Wildlife Habitat website.)
www.enature.com (Click on “Local Nature,” then “Backyard Wildlife Habitats” to learn how to create a backyard wildlife habitat and view a habitat gallery; ours is ID #6326.)
www.garden.org (Type “backyard wildlife” into the search box for some informative articles.)
www.nrcs.usda.gov/feature/backyard (Backyard wildlife habitat and conservation tips.)
www.gwf.org/habitats.htm (A schoolyard wildlife habitat planning guide.)
www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/wildscapes (Wildscape plan and design tips.)
These pages are a continuous work in progress.