Landscapes for Northwest Washington

Backyard Wildlife Habitat Ideas  by D. N. Kinsey

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. Native plants that provide food and cover are the backbone of every habitat. Make a list of all the plants in your yard, including everything from trees to wildflowers. Do you have any dead or dying trees? If so, don’t reach for the chainsaw! Dying or dead trees are excellent habitat features. Make a list of any structures that provide habitat elements, such as bird feeders, nesting structures, rock walls, or log piles. Finally, consider the physical features of your yard such as sun and wind exposure and soil conditions.

Provide the Four Basic Elements
All species have four basic requirements for survival. These are food, water, cover, and places to raise young.


Restoration of native plant communities to your yard should be the main emphasis of your habitat project. This is especially important since our native plants and wildlife have co-evolved. Select plants that provide natural foods such as fruits, seeds, nuts, and nectar. Choose your plants to provide food for backyard wildlife throughout the year.
Butterflies prefer flat or clustered flowers, such as purple coneflower, phlox, and zinnias.
By choosing native plants suited to the site conditions, little maintenance, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or additional watering will be necessary for the plants to thrive. This all adds up to time and cost savings as well as a healthier habitat for you, your family, and the wildlife that inhabit your yard. Purchase good native plants from our local native plant sale on February 23, 2008.

Wildlife needs water, for drinking, bathing, and in some cases, breeding. If you’re lucky enough to have a natural pond, stream, vernal pool, or other wetland on your property, make sure to preserve or restore it as these are excellent aquatic habitats.
A small pond set into the ground provides water for drinking and bathing, as well as cover and reproductive areas for small fish, insects, amphibians, and reptiles.


When choosing your plants, make sure to include at least one good clump of evergreen trees and shrubs to provide year-round protective cover from weather and predators. Good choices are Rocky Mountain Juniper, Tall Oregon Grape, and Garry Oak, as they provide food as well as cover. You should also plant deciduous shrubs to offer effective summer cover for nesting and escape from predators. Rock, log, and mulch piles also offer good cover. Small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and a great variety of insects and other small animals find homes in these structures, which are easy to build.

Places to Raise Young
Evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs provide nesting areas for birds. Dead and dying trees (called "snags") provide nesting sites for many species such as owls, flying squirrels, and other cavity-nesters. Rabbits, shrews, mice, snakes, and salamanders lay their eggs or raise young under boughs of plants as well as in the rock, log, or mulch piles. Aquatic animals, such as frogs, toads, newts, dragonflies, and other insects, deposit their eggs in ponds, vernal pools, and other wetlands.

Practice Conservation in your Own Backyard
Conserving resources will not only help the wildlife in your own yard but will help improve the island environment.

Here are some ideas for practicing resource conservation in your own backyard:
• Plant native plants suited to your region and do not plant any invasive exotics.
• Establish a raingarden, a backyard wetland or drainage buffer area to filter storm water and limit runoff.
• Capture roof rain water for use in planted areas.
• Use mulch to conserve soil moisture and cut down on weeding time.
• Use a drip soaker hose instead of a sprinkler if watering is needed to help your plants become established.
• Eliminate chemical use in your yard.
• Control pests by organic means. Better yet, let nature take its course and encourage beneficial insects (e.g., ladybug, praying mantis), birds, bats and other insect eaters.
• Reduce or eliminate your lawn area to cut down on mowing, watering and general maintenance.

See the National Wildlife Foundation, Backyard Habitat information for more or contact us