Where The Wild Things Are: Becoming A Certified Wildlife Habitat

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It’s official! Our backyard is now a Certified Wildlife Habitat. And yours can be too! Here’s how:

Whether you have a little or a lot of space, you can create a wildlife-friendly environment at your home, school, or business. To encourage the growth and support of natural areas, the National Wildlife Federation offers wildlife lovers the opportunity to designate their wild spaces as Certified Wildlife Habitats.

Where The Wild Things Are: Turtle-min

The Criteria

To become a Certified Wildlife Habitat, your green space must meet criteria in five areas:

Food: From ground-dwellers to high-flyers, all wildlife needs food to survive. By providing a number of different sources of nourishment, you can ensure your natural spaces will be welcoming to a variety of wildlife. Natural food sources can be supplemented by hanging feeders. To meet certification requirements your habitat will need at least three of the following:

  • Seeds from a plant
  • Berries
  • Nectar
  • Foliage
  • Nuts
  • Fruits
  • Sap
  • Pollen
  • Suet
  • Bird feeder
  • Squirrel feeder
  • Hummingbird feeder
  • Butterfly feeder

Water: Whether natural-made or human-made, water features in your habitat will provide wildlife with clean water for drinking and bathing and even a place to live for water creatures. Provide two of the following water features for certification:

  • Birdbath
  • Lake
  • Stream
  • Seasonal pool
  • Ocean
  • Water garden or pond
  • River
  • Butterfly puddling area
  • Rain garden
  • Spring

Cover: Wildlife will enjoy their stay in your green space if you offer shelter from the weather and predators (which can include humans). Your habitat will need two places of shelter to get certified. Here are some examples:

  • Wooded area
  • Bramble patch
  • Ground cover
  • Rock pile or wall
  • Cave
  • Roosting box
  • Dense shrubs or thicket
  • Evergreens
  • Brush or log pile
  • Burrow
  • Meadow or prairie
  • Water garden or pond

Places to Raise Young: To ensure the continued growth and health of wildlife populations, make your green space a family-friendly environment, a place where animals can meet and mate and then raise their young. You can do so – and meet the standards of certification – by offering at least two of the following:

  • Mature trees
  • Meadow or prairie
  • Nesting box
  • Wetland
  • Cave
  • Host plants for caterpillars
  • Dead trees
  • Dense shrubs or a thicket
  • Water garden or pond
  • Burrow

Sustainable Gardening: Environmental-friendly gardening practices – such as soil and water conservation, elimination of chemicals, and usage of native plants – are critical for the restoration and management of natural habitats. To become certified, you’ll need to make sure you do at least two of the following:

  • Riparian buffer
  • Capture rain water
  • Xeriscape (water-wise landscaping)
  • Drip or soaker hose for irrigation
  • Limit water use
  • Reduce erosion
  • Use mulch
  • Rain garden
  • Practice integrated pest management
  • Remove non-native plants and animals
  • Use native plants
  • Reduce lawn areas
  • Eliminate chemical pesticides
  • Eliminate chemical fertilizers
  • Compost

Where The Wild Things Are: Magnolia&Bee

Make it Official

When you become a Certified Wildlife Habitat, you will receive a personalized certificate and a year’s subscription to National Wildlife magazine. You can also order a garden flag or sign to publicize your achievement and support of the environment.

The National Wildlife Federation will walk you through the steps to certify your habitat. They also offer tips on how to create and support wildlife spaces.

This project was a fantastic opportunity to introduce the concepts of habitat and environmental responsibility to my young boys. As we worked through each of the five certification areas, we were able to talk about what our yard offered wildlife and why it was important. With the focus on local plants, local wildlife, and local land and water features, my boys learned about plants and wildlife that surround them – in the backyard, in the neighborhood, and in the parks around town.


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