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Anyone can certify their yard, farm, school or even their balcony if they live in an apartment in a big city as a backyard wildlife habitat. First here is some background on how this certification started.


The Backyard Wildlife Habitat program was started in 1973 by the National Wildlife Federation to acknowledge and encourage individuals who garden for wildlife. They have formally acknowledged the efforts of over 29,000 individuals and communities with their national certification program. The program encourages everyone - homeowner, teacher, community leader - to begin to move their landscape from a conventional one dominated by lawn, invasive exotic plants, and chemical pesticides and fertilizers, toward a native plant-based, chemical free, wildlife-friendly one.

Now that you have the background on the certification, here is some information to help you get started working towards your own certification.

Why Certify?

It’s Fun! Watching wildlife can be fun for the whole family.
It’s Relaxing! You will have a peaceful place to relieve stress and unwind.
It makes your yard more attractive!
It nurtures and supports wildlife all year!
Habitat restoration is critical for wildlife with natural areas disappearing.
Wildlife especially need your help during the cold winter months.
It benefits the environment!

It rewards you! Recognition by the NWF – certificate and yard sign

It expands your gardening knowledge and lets you share your love of wildlife with others!
Membership to the NWF
Gives you a sense of accomplishment and recognition for doing something good for wildlife and the local environment.

How do I certify my yard?

Provide basic habitat elements
Conserve natural resources in your yard
Submit Application for Certification (on-line: or paper copy sent to National Wildlife Federation
Application is reviewed to ensure it meets the habitat and sustainable landscaping practices criteria

It is not necessary to have a full-grown habitat before seeking certification. All sizes of property from small city balconies to large tracts of land can all qualify.

Creating a Backyard Wildlife Habitat

  1. 1.Assess your yard or garden space - The first thing you need to do is identify the habitat elements that already exist in your yard or garden space. You may already be providing some habitat for wildlife!

  2. 2.Provide the four basic elements - All species have four basic requirements for survival. These are Food, Water, Cover, and Places to Raise Young.

  3. 3.Practice resource conservation - Conserving resources will not only help the wildlife in your own yard but will help improve your community’s environment

Assess your yard or garden space

  1. 1.Food for nourishment: Birdfeeder, Shrubs/trees that produce fruits, acorns, seeds, berries, Wildflowers that produce nectar, Healthy insect populations to feed birds and other wildlife

  2. 2.Water for drinking and bathing: Birdbath, Pond, Shallow dish

  3. 3.Cover to protect against the elements and predators: Densely branched shrubs, Hollow logs, Rock piles, Brush piles, Stone walls, Evergreens, Meadow grasses, Pond

  1. 4.Places to Raise Young: Mature trees or grassland areas, Host plants for caterpillars, Pond for amphibians, Brush or rock pile, Burrows or dens

In addition to the four habitat basics, it’s also important to use sustainable gardening practices: Growing native vegetation, Minimizing chemical pesticides, Building healthy soil, Composting

Here are some examples of the four basic elements for certification.

Provide the four basic elements: Food, Water, Cover and Places to Raise Young

Food: Restoration of native plants to your yard, Select plants that provide seeds, nuts, nectar and fruits, Native perennials and annuals provide nectar for both butterflies and hummingbirds, Supplemental feeders can provide nectar for hummingbirds in summer and a variety of seed for other birds throughout year

Types of Food: Cranberry Viburnum, Joe Pye Weed, Coneflower, Rubeckia


  1. Wildlife needs water for drinking, bathing and breeding

  2. Water may be provided in a shallow dish, bird bath, pond or re-circulating waterfall

  3. Provide water year round.

  4. Use thermostatically controlled birdbath heater during winter when water need for wildlife is critical


  1. Protects birds from the elements and predators

  2. Provides a place for birds to preen

  3. Provides a place to rest during migration

  4. Include at least one good clump of evergreen trees and shrubs – juniper, hollies and live oaks are especially beneficial as they also provide food

  5. Deciduous shrubs offer effective summer cover for nesting and escape from predators.

  6. Rock, log and mulch piles are also good cover for small animals and insects

Types of Cover: Brush pile, Colorado Blue Spruce

Raising Young

  1. Trees and shrubs provide nesting areas for birds
    Dead and dying trees provide nesting sites for owls, flying squirrels and other cavity-nesters

  2. Boughs and piles of plants provide nesting for rabbits, mice and snakes

  3. Ponds and Wetlands provide frogs, toads, dragonflies and other insects place to deposit eggs

  4. Butterflies require “host” plants for reproduction

Examples of what to plant for areas to raise young: Streamside vegetation and Grasses provide nest material

Practice resource conservation

  1. Plant native plants suited to your region

  2. Capture roof rainwater for use in planted areas

  3. Use mulch to conserve soil moisture and cut down on weeding time

  4. Use a drip soaker hose instead of sprinkler when watering

  5. Eliminate chemical use in your yard

  6. Control Pests by organic means

  7. Encourage beneficial insects (ladybug, praying mantis) birds, bats and other insect eaters

  8. Reduce or eliminate your lawn area

Plant Conservation

  1. Reduce lawn area

  2. Plant native plants

  3. Remove invasives

  4. Reduce pesticides

Why Grow Natives?

An “invasive plant” is defined as a nonnative (or alien) species whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human and wildlife health. Invasive plants can crowd out or even cause death of native plants. Some emit toxic substances that poison soil for all other plants. Invasives can alter a native habitat so severely that not only are native plants eliminated, but the habitat can no longer support the wildlife it once did. Invasive aquatic plants can essentially kill off all life below the surface by blocking out sunshine and oxygen. Invasive plants in croplands can reduce crop yields by up to 50 percent.

  1. Plants native to the soils and climate of your specific area provide the best overall food sources for wildlife, while generally requiring less fertilizer, less water, and less effort in controlling pests.

  2. Native plants may support 10 to 50 times as many species of native wildlife as nonnative plants. Too often, exotic plants brought to our continent for their horticultural or wildlife value spread rapidly and take over farm and woodland, and decimate native plants and animals.

  3. Native plantings can reduce the need for water and chemical inputs and can maintain or enhance biological diversity

  4. Information on the importance of native plants can be found at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (available through

Plant Natives: Plant grasses, trees and flowers that provide shelter and food for wildlife and go organic by reducing pesticide use

Reduce Pesticides, Go Organic!

  1. 72 million wild birds are killed by agriculture pesticides

  2. 7 million wild birds are killed by homeowner applied pesticides

  3. Homeowners apply 66 million pounds of pesticides per year to their yards

Bring in the Birds

  1. By enticing bug-eating birds into your yard, you can help moderate garden pests naturally.

  2. Learn which beneficial birds are found in your area

  3. Plant appropriate types of native cover that provide insect and bird-attracting natural foods (leaves, fruit, pollen and nectar)

  4. Offer birds a water source

  5. Provide a few different nesting sites including dead trees

  6. Some great bug-eating birds: Purple Martin, Chipping Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, Common Nighthawk, Baltimore Oriole, House Wren

Bird Feeding

  1. Year round activity

  2. Provide variety of feed

  3. (niger, sunflower, safflower, nuts, millet, corn, fruits)

  4. Use multiple feeder types

  5. Locate feeders near cover

  6. Install baffles to protect feeders from predators

Clean feeders regularly to keep birds healthy

Project FeederWatch

  1. Count birds during winter months

  2. Help scientists keep track of bird species

Join thousands of other feeder watchers around the US and Canada at

Lawns Consume Resources

  1. Approximate 50% to 70% of our water is used for lawns

  2. 20 to 30 million acres of the US are covered by grass

  3. Run-off from lawns created water pollution in 26,000 miles of our rivers and streams

  4. Gas powered mowers contributes to 5% of the air pollution 40 hours a year spent mowing grass

Get Certified!

Fill out application online or hardcopy - click here to print out a copy of the application in pdf form.

Visit more information or specifics on certification process and requirements

What’s Next?

  1. Schoolyard Habitats

  2. Backyard Habitat Tour

  3. Community Wildlife Certification (CWH) – Zionsville, IN became 2nd community in September 2000

  4. Be an environmental steward

For more information about the above sources, please click here.

This information was taken from a presentation created by Cheryl Dornberg. All photos by Dave Dornberg.

Backyard Wildlife Habitat Certification Through The National Wildlife Federation

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