Attract Wildlife to Your Home – Create a Backyard Wildlife Habitat

After struggling with what to do with our little backyard for the last several years, I think I’ve finally found a solution. The main constraint for us is an oak tree that covers our entire yard with shade, making vegetable gardening difficult. The only plant thriving in our yard is rosemary. Kale does pretty well, but that’s about it.

Lately, I’ve been considering creating a butterfly or a hummingbird habitat. But then, well, we already have one. Every morning, I  can look out the back window and watch the hummingbirds and bees pollinate the rosemary blossoms.  But I want our yard to offer more.

Considering we live in the suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area, we’re fortunate to live amid an abundance of wildlife. We have a pair of mourning doves who spend the days in our yard. They return every year and have a baby or two. We also have a jay who has nested in our oak tree and spends his days trying to scare all other creatures away. We have lizards and, unfortunately, voles. And then there is the turkey who visits us on the fence for her daily visit. Beyond the fence, we frequently witness coyotes hunting voles. And I can’t forget to mention the deer. Or the turkey vultures and other raptors soaring in the sky above the hill out back. Nor the always present hoot of the great horned owls, hiding out there somewhere in the trees. Once, I even saw a small fox balled up, asleep on our back fence.  Scariest, one early morning we were awakened by the sound of a mountain lion attacking a deer.  Our yard has seen other nocturnal animals… raccoons, opossums, skunks.  My favorite may be the frogs in the small creek beyond our fence, who we hear singing through the winter, from November through April (could they be the endangered California red-legged frog?).  The idea of creating a garden with native plants to help support the local wildlife and migrating birds and butterflies has a strong appeal to me.

Last night, while browsing the internet, I came across the National Wildlife Federation‘s (NWF) Certified Wildlife Habitat program. Here’s a description of the program from their website:

Whether you have an apartment balcony or a 20-acre farm, you can create a garden that attracts beautiful wildlife and helps restore habitat in commercial and residential areas. By providing food, water, cover and a place for wildlife to raise their young you not only help wildlife, but you also qualify to become an official Certified Wildlife Habitat®.”

I read that this program has been around for thirty-five years, so this may not be new to you, but this is the first I’ve heard of it. This is the kind of garden we could actually create! It’s something we could actually do with our small townhome-size backyard space. And what a fun thing to do with my son!

To qualify as a wildlife garden, a backyard must include the following:

  • Provide food for wildlife
  • Supply water for wildlife
  • Create cover for wildlife
  • Give wildlife a place to raise their young

Do you have to “certify” to create a backyard wildlife habitat? No, of course not.  But it’s a fun idea! The program provides advice and tips to help create your garden. Plus, for the small fee of certification ($20.00), you also receive an annual membership to NWF, which includes a subscription to National Wildlife magazine and other perks.

To learn how to create a wildlife garden in your backyard or to certify your yard as a wildlife habitat, go to the NWF website…

And remember, you don’t need a huge backyard to attract wildlife. An apartment balcony will do! Or you can create a garden at your child’s school, your church, or your work.  Fun!


  1. Geri Luciano says:

    We live in a rural area on 1.25 acres and I certfied my yard just last year! I continue to be on the look out for ways to attract new wildlife to our property.


    1. I’m envious if the size of your yard. It gives you so much to work with! We do our best with our little 10′ x 30′ yard. 🙂


  2. mmtread says:

    We live in the middle of a city of 2 million – Budapest – but I’ve counted 29 species of birds in our back garden. All it takes is a good variety of trees and shrubs for food and cover, and some feeders in the winter. No big cats killing deer, but we do occasionally hear the hedgehogs scolding each other at night. We also catch the occasional glimpse of the marten that lives in our roof. A bit of wildlife makes life in the city infinitely more bearable.


    1. A Nature Mom says:

      29 species of birds in the middle of Budapest. That’s awesome. I’ve been to Budapest, and it’s a favorite of mine. I also know it’s a true city. It goes to show there’s wildlife everywhere, if one decides to look for it!


  3. Planting Potatoes says:

    I totally agree with you! we love the animals with whom we share these mountains with! Some get a little closer than we prefer at times….deer walk onto our deck waiting for us to open our door….but I’m curious…what do you do about those pesky voles?


    1. A Nature Mom says:

      The vole problem was horrible about two years ago. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but they just don’t seem to be around anymore. I went on a hike last Sunday behind the development, and all the vole holes seem to now have lizards living in them. We do have a healthy coyote / owl / hawk / eagle / snake / cat population, so maybe the predators finally regained control? I don’t know, but I’m not complaining!


      1. Planting Potatoes says:

        we seem to have summers without them, then other summers, they have taken over…..but our cat does seem determined to find them…he’s already got one…he has more patience than me….he often lays on a hole for hours!


  4. beechcreekproject says:

    Sounds like a great idea. From the sounds of it you have no shortage of wildlife just outside your door. So what better plan than provide some food and habitat for them. Maybe not the coyotes and mountain lions. 😀


    1. A Nature Mom says:

      Basically, I envision an extension of what’s on the other side of the fence into our yard… a continuation of the habitat. And, yes, it would be great if the big predators stay out of the yard! The sound of the mountain lion attacking that deer is something I never need to hear first hand again. Out of a deep sleep, it evoked an immediate hair-stand-on-end “flight” response. But one of these days, I’d sure like to see a bobcat!


      1. beechcreekproject says:

        I saw one bobcat in my hikes around this area and it was just a fleeting one as he raced across an old forest road I was traveling. Just in that glance there was no doubt what it was. My oldest daughter was with me at the time while she was on break from college so it made it a bit more exciting to be hiking with Dad. Can’t wait to hear and see how your habitat develops.


  5. FeyGirl says:

    lovely! 🙂


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