How to Build Habitat

Four key ingredients for wildlife habitat in your backyard:
Food, Water, Shelter, and Places to Raise Young

Today, more than 700 types of plants and animals in North America have been designated as endangered, meaning only a handful of individuals remain and the population appears dangerously close to extinction.   One of the birds on that list is the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, shown here.  


 Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Photo by Luke Seitz


To save endangered species and to conserve the incredible diversity of living things on this continent, people must work to protect wildlife habitats.  Habitat is a place where organisms get what they need to survive: food, water, shelter and a place to raise young.  

Here are some great things you can do for birds and wildlife.

  • Provide water year-round - A simple bird bath is a great place to start.  Change the water every two to three days in the summer and use a bird bath heater in winter.  If possible, place the bird bath ten feet away from dense cover and shrubs that predators might be hiding in.  
  • Install native plants - Select a variety of native plants to offer year-round food in the form of seeds, berries, nuts and nectar.  Try to recreate the plant ecosystem native to this area.  Native evergreen trees and shrubs provide excellent cover through all seasons.  In addition to this website, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has lists of recommended native plants by region and state.       
  • Eliminate insecticides in your yard - Insects are the primary source of food for many bird species.  They're an important source of protein and fats for growing juvenile birds.  No birds.  
  • Keep dead trees - Dead trees provide cavity-dwelling places for birds to raise young and are a source to collect insects for food.   Many species will also seek shelter from bad weather in these hollowed out  trees.    
  • Put out nesting boxes - Make sure the boxes have ventilation holes at the top and drainage holes at the bottom.  Do not use a box with a perch as house sparrows are known to use a perch to peck at and sometimes kill nesting birds.  Be sure to monitor the box for invasive species known to harm or out-compete our native species.  
  • Build a brush pile in the corner of your yard - Start with larger logs and top with smaller branches.  Some birds will hunt, nest or roost in brush piles.  
  • Offer food in feeders - Bird feeders are a great source of food.  They enhance bird viewing opportunities.    It's been proven that communities that feed birds have a larger and more diverse population.  
  • Remove invasive plants from your yard - Many invasive plants out-compete the native species favored by birds, insects and other wildlife.  Check with your local US Department of Agriculture Cooperative Extension for information on which species to avoid.  Check this list for noxious plants in your area.
  • Reduce your lawn area - Lawns are a monoculture and have little value to birds or other wildlife.  They also waste valuable energy required to fertilize, mow and water.   Over fertilization results in over nutrification of our local waterways.  Lawnmowers produce as much pollution as many cars.         


All forms of life from humans to cows to bears to flowers need certain things to live.  Survival depends on getting enough food, water, shelter and places to raise young.  We'd love to help you turn your backyard into a thriving wildlife habitat so stop by the store or give us call and let us know how we can help.

Source:  National Wildlife Federation    download the "Create a Bird Friendly Habitat" tip sheet