How to Get Your Yard Certified as a Wildlife Habitat

A bird with a red face and belly brings nest materials into a birdhouse.

Around the world, animal and insect populations are in serious decline. We don't understand all the causes perfectly, but we know some things about how we can help. If you have an outdoor space on your property, you can contribute to the health of our fuzzy and feathered friends by creating a nurturing habitat for them to enjoy.

The National Wildlife Federation, an American not-for-profit organization, offers a certification for properties that provide shelter and sustenance to wildlife. Whether or not you seek out their seal of approval, the steps they recommend are tools you can use to help preserve and protect the natural world in your own backyard.

If you do decide to get certified by the NWF, you can order a sign from them to show your neighbors and visitors what you're up to. Posting a statement like that shows your dedication to supporting nature, and it might inspire others to find ways to help, too. The NWF offers a detailed checklist with five basic elements, described below.

Provide at Least Three Sources of Food

Build and fill some birdfeeders, and cultivate some sources of natural food for the critters in your yard. Grow plants that produce edible elements like seeds, berries, sap, and nuts. Flowers can provide pollen and nectar, appreciated by insects and hummingbirds.

A speckled bird eats red berries on a branch.

Provide Cover

Cover is a basic necessity of all living species, and animals aren't picky. Even a pile of loose branches will attract activity. Many small animals seek out the respite of nooks and crannies to nibble their findings in safety. Trees, shrubs, or even a bramble patch will meet this requirement for the NWF. If your shrubbery creates a food source, you're saving two birds with one bush!

Provide a Nesting Spot

In order for wildlife populations to thrive, they must produce safe and healthy offspring. Giving those in your area a space to mate and deliver babies is a gracious gift. Building birdhouses is a great way to do this, and it always makes a fun project. Set them up near your bedroom and you'll be rewarded throughout the year with the gentle warbling of your tiny tenants.

You may already have the perfect natural place in your yard, such as a patch of tall grass or a downed branch. You can help the cause with a pond or water garden, mature trees, and dense shrubs. Many of the same spots that offer protection from the elements and predators are ideal for bearing young.

Provide Access to Water

If your property is blessed with a creek, river, lake, or pond, you’ve got this one covered. Those without a natural water source can set up a bird bath, build a pond or create some other kind of wildlife-friendly water feature. Even seasonal pools or springs fit the bill in this category. It’s important to provide water that animals can both drink and use to bathe. Who doesn’t enjoy watching a heron dip her beak, or a chickadee shake the water off his back?

A happy frog sits in a lily pond

Plan Sustainably

It seems self-explanatory that a wildlife habitat should provide food, water, and shelter, but the NWF takes the process one step further by asking you how you provide that habitat sustainably. The sub-checklist for that goal has three categories, and although they advocate employing practices from all three, you can achieve certification by participating in just two.

Soil and water conservation - This element includes options like using rain barrels to collect rainwater, deploying xeriscape techniques, and using a drop or soaker hose for irrigation.

Controlling exotic species - This means keeping out non-native plant and animal species as well as pests that could interfere with the habitat.

Organic maintenance - This requires eliminating or at least carefully minimizing the use of chemical insecticides, fungicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. This category also gives you credit for composting.

Register for Certification

Once you’ve put in place the proper foliage, water, and practices, it’s time to head to the website and complete your application for certification. The price of the certification goes toward programs that help wildlife everywhere.

Putting up a sign is a powerful way to spread the good news about caring for nature. At the end of the day, though, it's your action to protect wildlife that matters most. Whether you choose to donate or not, you can feel good about contributing to a better world for everyone.