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Creating a Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Landscaping for wildlife can be as easy as planting a couple of bushes, or as complex as your gardening interest will carry you. The four essential ingredients are: food, water, shelter and places to raise young. Start by examining what your yard already provides. Then introduce new elements to supplement and enhance this site for wildlife. For related resources, see the bottom of this page.


Food: Shrubs and trees provide fruits and seeds throughout the year. Choose native plants, such as blueberry, sumac and viburnum. Perennial and annual flowers provide nectar for both butterflies and hummingbirds. Hummingbirds visit bee balm, wild columbine and cardinal flower. Butterflies enjoy butterfly weed, purple coneflower and phlox. You can add feeders to provide a variety of seeds for birds through the winter months.


Water: Provide water by adding a birdbath or installing a small pond. Heaters added to birdbaths in winter ensure a year round supply of water. A small fountain will add the sound of running water and increases the birds' activity. Ponds may be easily constructed in most yards, and provide a home for dragonflies, fish, newts, frogs and other aquatic life, as well as water for small mammals.


Cover: Many of the same trees and shrubs used for food also protect animals from weather and predators. Include evergreen and deciduous shrubs. A small brush pile in a corner of your yard provides cover for birds or an over wintering spot for many insects or moths. Rock, log and mulch piles offer effective cover. Small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and a great variety of insects find homes in these structures.


Places to Raise Young: Evergreens, deciduous trees, and shrubs provide additional nesting areas for birds. 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, and newts, deposit their eggs in the ponds. Butterfly eggs and caterpillars find safety among the herbs, flowers, shrubs, and trees. You can supplement cavity trees with nest boxes for bluebirds, chickadees, wrens, and purple martins.


Some Internet Resources




There are many books and magazines that can help guide your habitat-creation process. Here are a few of our favorites:


  • Enhancing Your Backyard Habitat for Wildlife
    Peter M. Picone; Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, 1995
  • Homes for Wildlife: Habitat Enhancement on School Grounds
    Marilyn C. Wyzga; NH Fish & Game Department, 1998
  • Landscaping for Wildlife
    Carrol L. Henderson, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 1987
  • Your Backyard Wildlife Garden
    Marcus Schneck; Quarto Publishing, Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA, 1992


Sources for Northeast Native Plants

First, encourage your local nursery to stock native plants, particularly those that are propagated from seed (not field collected). Next, check out:

  • Garden in the Woods, The New England Wild Flower Society
    180 Hemenway Road; North Framingham, MA 01701; (508) 877-7630
  • Tripple Brook Farm
    37 Middle Road, Southampton, MA 01073; (713) 527-4626
  • Rolling Green Nursery
    64 Breakfast Hill Road, Greenland, NH 03840; (603) 436-2732
  • Eastern Plant Specialties
    PO Box 226W; Georgetown, ME 04548
  • Blue Meadow Farm
    184 Meadow Road; Montague Center, MA 01351; (413) 367-2394
  • Amanda's Garden, Wild Flowers and Native Perennials
    8410 Harpers Ferry Road, Springwater, NY, 14560; (585) 669-2275

For more information on schoolyard and backyard habitats, contact Marilyn Wyzga, NH Fish and Game Department, 11 Hazen Dr. Concord, NH 03301; (603) 271-3211;