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How to Get Your Yard Wildlife Habitat-Certified

If you enjoy gardening to bring beauty to your landscape, you can up your game by consciously making it a welcoming home for butterflies, birds, bees and other beneficial wildlife. Read on to learn how to get your yard certified as a Wildlife Habitat.

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Photo: National Wildlife Federation/Jennifer Storm

What Makes a "Habitat"

The National Wildlife Federation, which has been helping US wildlife survive and thrive since it was founded in 1936, has been certifying individual gardens and yards as Wildlife Habitats since 1973, says Mary Phillips, head of the nonprofit organization’s Garden for Wildlife program, which issues the certifications. “To have your property certified, you need to commit to five elements,” she says: food, water, cover, places to raise young, and sustainable practices. To date, the organization lists 265,000 certified Wildlife Habitats across the US, and the program continues to grow. The organization has developed a new program, Plant With Purpose, offering collections of native plants customized by region that benefit wildlife. The program is currently available to gardeners in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Midwest, and plans to expand to other regions in the near future. “People are still really committed to this,” Phillips says. “We are thrilled to see that.” Ready to get your garden certified? Here’s how…

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Photo: National Wildlife Federation/Derah Pesce

Provide Food

Every creature needs to eat. In fact, the National Wildlife Federation notes that 96 percent of backyard birds rely on insects and other invertebrates as the only source of food for their babies. They note, too, that the bird population in North America has declined by almost one-third in the last 50 years due to habitat loss and reduction of native plants, thus fewer insects. Your home habitat can provide food for birds, insects and other wildlife in the form of plants that provide seeds, berries and fruits, nectar and pollen. Bird, squirrel and butterfly feeders also qualify in the "Food" category for certification.

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Photo: National Wildlife Federation/Deborah Roy

Help Them Find Water

Birds, insects and everything else in your garden needs water to survive and thrive. If you live near a lake, stream or spring, you may already have the water your wildlife habitat needs. If you are completely landlocked, you can provide water in a water garden, small pond, rain garden, bubbler or other water feature. Encourage the collection of water in vernal pools – natural depressions throughout the landscape that hold water for a time before they dry up and disappear. These play a critical role by supporting amphibians and other species, the National Wildlife Federation advises. Even a birdbath kept filled with fresh water can satisfy the water needs of more than just birds.

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Give Them Cover

Shelter is important for wildlife species to be able to survive. Brush piles and leaf litter are not just places wildlife can hide from predators, though. They’re attractive as places to lay eggs, to give birth, stay cool in the shade underneath or lay out on top in the sun. Consider the butterflies; statistics show that Monarch butterfly populations have declined dramatically. Though population numbers vary year to year, the eastern population has been down 90 percent and the western population over 99 percent. Some species of butterflies and moths overwinter in leaf litter; when they emerge as caterpillars, they’re an important food source for many bird species. Dead trees also serve an important purpose, providing vital habitat for more than 1,000 species of wildlife, the NWF says. Nesting boxes and bat houses also count toward the requirements for certification as a Wildlife Habitat.

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