Turning your backyard into a certified wildlife habitat with The National Wildlife Federation is a fun activity to do with kids and you will be rewarded with a yard teeming with plants and wildlife. Whether you live in a city or have nothing but a strip of land, you can help birds and pollinators by providing them with food and respite as they migrate.
From where I am sitting on my deck, I can see 5 different bird nests with patient mothers sitting on eggs. The attentive daddy birds flutter back and forth with food. Our noisy little house wren returns to the same nest box every year. The hummingbirds and bumblebees hover over the brightly colored flowers and I can hear a woodpecker banging his heart out off in the distance. It makes my inner bird nerd burst with pride. When I glance down at the field, I see a bunny hopping around in search of clover and a garter snake basks on the stone patio. Just this morning, a deer casually walked across our front lawn.
I never wanted a fancy flower garden. My goal was to create a habitat that would help attract pollinators and sustain wildlife. First we had a lot of invasives to remove. Invasive plant species spread quickly, displace native plants and prevent native plant growth. Take garlic mustard for example. Their roots actual exude a chemical that inhibits other plants from growing. These plants have to be identified and removed. Fast.
We purchased our house from our in-laws. They were avid gardeners and our property was once on the town garden tour. When we moved in, we very quickly had 3 children and were in survival mode for many years. I was lucky if I could keep up with the dishes and laundry. Yard work was the last thing on my mind.
We paid dearly for those years of neglect. Oriental bittersweet quickly took over the yard, swallowing entire trees in it’s path. It became my biggest enemy. For two years, all I did was pull or cut vines. By the time I finished one strip of land, I would have to go right back to the beginning and start over because it grew so fast. I would hobble back to the house at the end of the day, unable to stand up straight and feeling totally defeated. But all of our handwork has paid off and we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Now, I love nothing more than wandering through our yard, watching the wildlife take up residence. Just the other morning, I sat having my coffee in the garden when I saw a little creature run out. It was a weasel! I have never seen one in my life. It was the cutest little murderer I have ever seen. He went off sniffing chipmunk holes, keeping the ecosystem in it’s delicate balance.
Creating a certified wildlife habitat in your backyard with the National Wildlife Federation
I wanted to teach my kids all of these important lessons in an engaging way. The National Wildlife Federation has a program where you can certify your backyard as a wildlife habitat by making sure you are providing the necessities for survival.
You can download an easy checklist and have your kids go through your property looking for the requirements like a scavenger hunt. Talk with them about each of the requirements and ask them why they think it is important for animals. If you are missing a requirement from the list, see how you can rectify it. We added several nest boxes for birds as well as a bat box.
The certification requirements are:
1. Food: Native plants provide food eaten by a variety of wildlife. Feeders can supplement natural food sources.
2. Water: All animals need water to survive, and some need it for bathing or breeding as well.
3. Cover: Wildlife need places to take shelter from bad weather and places to hide from predators or hunt for prey.
4. Places to Raise Young: Wildlife need resources to reproduce, and to protect and nourish their young.
5. Sustainable Practices: Maintain your yard or garden in natural ways to ensure soil, air, and water stay healthy and clean.
Once you go through the checklist to be sure that you have provided the basic needs for wildlife, you can fill out the simple online application. There is a $20 fee which supports the National Wildlife Federation’s programs to inspire others to make a difference and address the issues leading to declining habitat for wildlife nationwide. You will receive a personalized certificate, a one year membership to the National Wildlife Federation, a subscription to National Wildlife magazine, and 10% off of NWF merchandise including nest boxes that can help enhance your wildlife garden.
Certified Wildlife Habitat Sign
If you would like a sign to show off your accomplishment, they can be ordered from the National Wildlife Federation for an additional fee. The sign features the NWF’s ambassador, Ranger Rick. Only those who have created a wildlife habitat garden and earned Certified Wildlife Habitat status can post the sign.
Keeping Wildlife Safe
Once we drew wildlife to our yard, we took a few important steps to keep them safe. Although these are not requirements, they are things to keep in mind.
Installing a Catio
Everyone knows that I am a huge cat lover, but cats can do real damage to native bird populations. Letting your cat outside can put them in danger as well. Catios are the best way you can let your cat get out for fresh air while keeping everyone safe. The nearby bird feeder was like installing Direct TV.
Keeping Wildlife out of a Pool
We also have a swimming pool and I was really sad to see chipmunks floating in the pool in the morning. I researched different ways to keep that from happening and found a couple of devices that work like a charm. We haven’t had a casualty since we installed them. The first is called a FrogLog. This wildlife ramp allows animals to escape. The bridge out of the pool is the most important part because animals are not able to get over the edge of a pool.
But then I would go to empty our filters and find dead frogs and snakes floating in there. We installed a Critter Skimmer, which gives animals a ramp to get up and out of the filter. These inexpensive products help keep wildlife safe and your pool clean.
There was a complete wildlife drama going on in our backyard, we just had to pay attention. It’s like The Field of Dreams quote “if you build it, they will come.” As soon as invasive species were removed, the native plants could rebound and they brought the wildlife with it. Creating a certified wildlife habitat in your backyard with the National Wildlife Federation was fun and easy. The kids learned a lot and loved receiving their sign in the mail to show off their hard work. It would also make a great project for schools, community groups and cub scouts.