MAY HAVE A WILDLIFE HABITAT IN YOUR BACKYARD
April 15, 2002
About a decade ago in the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America,
Americans were accused of being "unable to identify the plants
and animals in their own backyard." I felt at the time that the
same could be said as easily of Germans, or Italians, or Australians.
But Americans are the ones who got picked on by the author (who was
Swedish); his real point was that many Americans do not seem to care
enough about their own local environment to find out what lives around
them. Perhaps that situation has changed. The number of Americans
who do enjoy wildlife may now outnumber those who do not.
If you are able to identify the plants and animals in your own backyard--or
want to be able to--take advantage of an upcoming event. The event:
National Wildlife Week. The date: April 22 to 28, 2002. The theme:
"Explore Nature in your Neighborhood." The sponsor: the
National Wildlife Federation (NWF).
The NWF sponsors the Backyard Wildlife Habitat program, which operates
on the principle that more natural habitat means more native wildlife.
The NWF's mission is "to educate, inspire and assist individuals
and organizations of diverse cultures to conserve wildlife and other
natural resources and to protect the Earth's environment in order
to achieve a peaceful, equitable and sustainable future." As
part of fulfilling its goal, NWF has become a leader in teaching people
how to enhance wildlife by improving habitat. You may know the organization
by some of its magazines, which include RangerRick, National Wildlife,
and International Wildlife.
The backyard program helps you plan a wildlife habitat in your own
yard. Once you complete certain straightforward guidelines, you can
apply for official certification by completing an application form
and sending a $15 fee. To get started, check out the NWF Web site
The program gives four points for developing and maintaining a backyard
habitat to attract wildlife. These are the basic ecological requirements
of food, water, cover, and places for animals to raise young. A wide
variety of habitat elements is recommended to attract the greatest
diversity of birds, insects, and other animals.
The program emphasizes the value of using native plant species as
much as possible to provide food sources. Oak, hickory, and cherry
trees are obvious choices for providing food for many species. If
you do not already have trees and shrubs, you may want to consult
a nature center or plant nursery to determine those most suitable
for your area.
The most difficult essential for many people to provide is water.
The program suggests birdbaths, a dripping hose, or even a small sunken
pool kept as a year-round water source. However, remember that standing
water must be checked regularly in the warm months for mosquito larvae.
Supplying running water could be costly, so you may have to decide
if the returns on wildlife you attract and sustain justify the expense.
In many cases, the answer will be yes.
Cover for wildlife should be the easiest item to provide and can work
in your favor if you're tired of carting away shrub and lawn trimmings.
Piles of brush or rocks need not be discarded; they can be organized
aesthetically, in a manner that will satisfy your neighbors and attract
wildlife. Creating hiding places for small animals such as chipmunks
or lizards will greatly increase biodiversity in your own backyard.
The final ingredient for a healthy and diverse backyard is the creation
of places for animals to give birth and raise their young. Dense shrubbery,
tall trees, and some of the wildlife cover will help in this effort.
Although some species are extremely particular about where they nest,
placing birdhouses on trees will be sure to attract something. A dead
tree can provide future nesting sites for woodpeckers, flying squirrels,
and lizards. If the tree poses no danger from falling, why cut it
I think every week should be national wildlife week, but Americans
do seem to like the idea of an extra special week for any cause. And
anyone taking the backyard habitat plan seriously for a week will
have the rest of the year to enjoy it.
you have an environmental question or comment, email