How to Turn Your Own Backyard Into a Certified Wildlife Habitat

What is an approved wildlife habitat?

The National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat is a property that has been certified by the NWF as meeting the requirements for habitats that support native wildlife. One can certify their property as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by:

Ensure that the property meets all requirements set by the NWF,
Apply on their website, and
Pay a small fee.
Any type of property can become certified wildlife habitat, but this article will focus on your backyard. Doing everything your garden or yard needs to become certified wildlife habitat is easier than you think.

Certified wildlife habitat requirements

There are five requirements for your garden to become a certified wildlife habitat: Your garden must provide food, water, cover, and places for wildlife to raise their young, while also using sustainable practices to maintain your habitat. Specifically, your yard should provide:

At least three food sources for wildlife.
At least one source of water.
At least two wildlife sites to avoid inclement weather and predators.
At least two places for wildlife to raise their young.
Finally, you must use practices from at least two of the three categories of sustainable practices (Soil and Water Conservation, Alien Species Control, and Organic Practices) to maintain and manage wildlife habitats.

The Food

The first thing your garden needs to become a habitat for wildlife is at least three food sources for the local wildlife. Food sources can include bird feeders that you fill and maintain (be sure to keep them clean and stocked) or natural food sources from plants in your garden including seeds, pollen, nectar, sap, and fruit.

There are many options if you want to add nutrients. Along with the several plants that support animals, I have regular bird feeders that offer sunflower seeds, a suet feeder, and a hummingbird feeder in my garden. If you choose to provide feeders, clean them regularly and refill them as needed. Hummingbird feeders are particularly delicate and require regular cleaning to avoid endangering hummingbirds (and remember, never add anything but plain white sugar and water to a hummingbird feeder. Things like red dye or honey are dangerous to hummingbirds). Some people choose to add a squirrel feeder as well.

For more natural food sources, consider growing native plants that provide food for wildlife, such as nectar, pollen, sap, fruits, nuts or seeds. Pollinators like monarch butterflies and bees depend on native flowers to survive, so consider growing some of their favorite plants, such as milkweed, coniferous, and bee balm.


In addition to food, the animals and insects that live in your garden also need water. To meet officially certified wildlife habitat requirements, your garden must include at least one source of clean water for wildlife to drink and bathe.

If you are fortunate enough to have a pond, stream, or stream on your property, you are all set. These natural water sources actually provide the wildlife in your garden with the fresh water they need to survive. Don't worry if you don't already have a natural source of water in your garden. There are many easy options for providing fresh, clean water to wildlife visitors.

In my garden, I have a standard bird bath with a solar fountain, a small bird bath near some bird feeders, and two small bowls of water for my amphibian and insect friends next to my frog house.

Other options include installing an artificial pond, building a butterfly enclosure, or creating a rain garden. If your water source includes standing water, such as bird baths and water dishes, be sure to change the water and clean the dishes often.


In addition to food and water, the wildlife that calls your garden home also needs shelter. Your garden must have at least two different sorts of protection from harsh weather, temperature changes, or predators in order to be considered a certified wildlife habitat. The many forms of cover you can provide can also satisfy the need for places for wildlife to raise their young.

In my own garden I have a frog house, where the frogs can take shelter from predators and bad weather, which I have built out of piles of stones. I also have a bat box installed on the side of my garage to attract bats and keep them in. Other forms of cover that I use in my home's wildlife habitat are shrubs, ground cover plants that a variety of critters can use as cover, and a small pile of rotting logs.

You may also use nesting boxes, bramble patches, rock heaps, and artificial ponds as animal shelter in your landscape.

Places for raising young

In addition to cover and simple shelter, backyard wildlife needs places to raise their young. To certify your yard as a certified wildlife habitat, you will need to provide at least two such spaces. Preserving breeding populations is one of the most important considerations when considering the conservation of native wildlife species. The same locations that provide as cover for many of the species you may discover in your garden or backyard can also serve as nurseries for the young.

In my own garden, I recently installed a bat box, which is a small wooden box where bats can roost during the day. These are great places for bats to raise young bats.
I've also planted several beds of milkweed, which, in addition to being a favorite food source for monarch butterflies, is the only place where monarchs lay their eggs. These plants are the only source of food that monarch caterpillars eat, so you can see why adding them to your backyard wildlife habitat is so important. I also have many trees and shrubs around my yard where I sometimes find birds nesting.

Other ideas for places where wildlife can raise their young include mature trees, nesting boxes for birds, dead trees or debris, or water gardens and ponds.

Sustainable Practices

To preserve your wildlife habitat, you also need to use sustainable practices in managing your property. The National Wildlife Federation defines three categories of sustainable practices, of which you need to use practices from at least two categories.

In the soil and water conservation class, I use mulch and try to limit my water use. I am currently collecting excess water from my central aeration system for use in my garden (this water is also great for uses that require distilled water, such as watering Venus flytraps and carnivorous plants like sunsets) and will soon be implementing rainwater harvesting.

To control the exotics class, I keep my cats indoors, keep away from local wildlife for the benefit of both the wildlife and my cats!, I weed when I encounter them, I have planted many types of native plants, replaced areas of lawn with flower beds, extra lawn areas will be converted to flowerbeds in the future.

Finally, in the category of organic practices, I don't use chemical pesticides, I reduce the amount of chemical fertilizers I use and switch to all-natural fertilizers, and I do several forms of composting including a traditional compost pile, worm bin, and bokashi bucket.

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