A really neat project to get kids involved with nature (and help wildlife) is to certify your yard as a Wildlife Habitat. The National Wildlife Federation has a certification program that is fun to do with kids. So far there are over 70,000 certified backyard habitats.
You do not need a big, fancy yard to get certified. What you do need however, are four basic habitat elements: food, water, cover, and places to raise young. Click on the links to each element for examples, as well as projects for incorporating these elements into your yard.
Sit down with your kids and evaluate your yard. Decide together what you can do to make sure that the four elements are present. Create a plan and carry it out. When you are done, complete the online certification questionnaire.
If you are still lacking in any area, the website will tell you what you need to improve. If you have the basic elements, then you will get a certification number. You will also get a one-year membership to the National Wildlife Federation which includes a subscription to National Wildlife magazine. They will send you a certificate and a press-release for your local paper to help spread the word about this program. Plus, you can order ($25) a cool, weather-proof sign like mine in the photo to really let the world know about the importance of gardening for wildlife.
Here are some examples of each element from our yard:
Bird feeders are an obvious choice for FOOD. Include many different varieties of seeds (sunflower is the favorite here, but we also have millet, thistle, and cracked corn), suets, and a hummingbird feeder of sugar water. We put peanuts out for the squirrels and chipmunks too (although quite a few birds enjoy the peanuts as well). Also, diversify your feeder types. Some birds like perches, some prefer to cling, some like platform feeders like the one on the left. We also have a birdseed block on the ground for ground feeders.
Other, less obvious FOOD sources are native plants, bushes with berries, and flowers that produce dried seed heads such as these Purple Coneflowers:
If you aren’t fortunate enough to have a pond or other natural water source on your property, birdbaths are essential for providing WATER. This is one of our three bird baths. One of them is heated so water is available in the winter also. Even the squirrels drink out of them! This photo also shows a FOOD source: the Cosmos flowers around the birdbath produce nice seeds.
This birdbath is near a tree so drinking birds have an easy escape if necessary. Our birdseed block is in the foreground.
Examples of COVER in our yard:
PLACES TO RAISE YOUNG can be man made such as nest boxes or bird houses, or natural: trees, shrubs, dead trees. Even a woodpile, like our messy one above, provides great nesting opportunities for chipmunks and other small rodents.
We are fortunate enough to have this lightning damaged, partially dead tree (a “snag“) behind the house which, as you can see from the photo below, has become a bird condo! In fact there is a very noisy family of Lewis’ Woodpeckers currently nesting in one of those holes.
We hung some roosting pockets under the eaves (near a window so we could watch the action), but there have been no interested birds so far.
Here are some book suggestions to help you too. The Backyard Naturalist is a great resource, but you will only find it used:
Native Plants for High Elevation Western Gardens is a great guide to native plant species in my region. Obviously, if you don’t have a high elevation western garden it won’t do for you. But check your library, bookstore, or Amazon for similar regional guides to get native plant ideas:
The National Wildlife Federation also offers garden reference books for sale online that you might want to look at as well.
This post is part of The Sunday Garden Tour at A Wrung Sponge. Head over there to find more participants, or to add your own garden-related post. Happy Sunday!