Right in Your Own Backyard

By Rita Lynn

An article in the new (February/March 2015) National Wildlife magazine highlights a Rutgers University study of biodiversity in cities around the world.  Contrary to the belief that the very nature of an urban environment limits the variety of wildlife to a few of the same species (such as pigeons and rats), this study found that cities support large, varied, and area-specific populations of wildlife.  At the same time, communities in many places are deliberately managing their green spaces to promote biodiversity.

Despite this encouraging news, flora and fauna face ever-increasing pressure from habitat loss as a result of human activities.  Around the middle of the last century, landscaping trends began to favor exotic ornamentals, as opposed to native plants, surrounded by manicured lawns kept green and weed-free with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  These practices, still commonplace today, have disturbed the balance of the ecosystem and have banished many wild animals from spaces they had previously occupied.

Back in 1972, two U.S. Forest Service researchers, Richard DeGraaf and Jack Ward Thomas, recognized these trends.  They studied ways to counter their   effects and turn urban backyards into mini-habitats for wildlife.  The men then wrote the article, “Invite Wildlife to Your Backyard,” which appeared in the April/May 1973 issue of National Wildlife magazine.  Partly as a result of that article, the National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitat® program was born.  In the 40-plus years since its inception, over 150,000 homes, schools and entire communities have been certified as wildlife habitat.

The Certified Wildlife Habitat® program is ongoing, and I recently completed the certification process for my yard.  The requirements are quite simple and can be met by someone with as little as an apartment balcony.  You need to show that you are providing:

  • Food – flowering plants, shrubs and trees, and possibly supplemental feeders, to supply the foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds and nuts wildlife need to survive
  • Water – clean water for drinking, bathing and reproduction from natural sources or human-made features such as birdbaths and rain gardens
  • Cover – places to hide from people, predators and weather, such as vegetation, brush piles, shrubs and dead trees
  • Places to raise young – bushes, trees and wildflower meadows, for example, which can also be the vegetation used as cover, where animals can raise their young

Once your yard has the elements to meet these basic wildlife needs, you can apply to the NWF for certification of your property as wildlife habitat.  Further, if you have taken steps specifically to invite birds to your yard, you can receive Advanced Certification.  For this, you need to have provided at least three bird-specific features.  Eliminating insecticides, having a bird feeder, maintaining a bird bath of some kind, planting native nectar plants for hummingbirds, and installing bird deterrent window reflectors are some measures that qualify for this certification.

We View readers could have quite an impact if a good number of us made – or have already made – the special efforts to support wildlife in these ways.


“The Birth of NWF’s Habitat Program,” http://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/2010/The-Birth-of-NWFs-Habitat-Program.aspx

“History of the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program,” http://www.nwf.org/How-to-Help/Garden-for-Wildlife/Gardening-Tips/History-of-the-Backyard-Wildlife-Habitat-Program.aspx

“Creating Bird-Friendly Urban Landscapes,” http://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/2013/Bird-Friendly-Urban-Landscapes.aspx


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