This sign is one of my treasures. It originally hung in the window of my old house (since the Home Owners Association (HOA) wouldn't let me put it up in my yard, don't get me started about HOAs!) This sign indicated that my yard was a registered Backyard Habitat. It was a safe zone for wildlife and provided the 4 basics: food, water, shelter and a place to raise young.
I earned this sign by making my yard wildlife friendly. It doesn't have to be a major project like on the Backyard Habitat TV show. It doesn't have to cost a fortune. You don't have to own a huge piece of land. People have certified balcony and rooftop gardens in the heart of the city. Every little bit helps.
I started by simply replacing the petunias, pansies and snapdragons that couldn't take the Texas heat with native flowers which thrived in the heat and dryness of the south. The bonus came when these needed much less water, almost never needed to be sprayed for pests, and began attracting butterflies and birds to my gardens. Oh, and most of these natives were either perennials (plants that survive from year to year) or self seeders so I didn't have to keep buying the same plants every spring! Money saver!
Next I added in a couple of birdbaths that I made by taking old clay pots with saucers and putting the pot upside down in the garden then putting the saucer on top and filling with water. Speaking of water, summer is the dry season for south Texas. Instead of watering with a sprinkler I would wait until my kids were done playing in the wading pool give them buckets and have them empty the swimming pool one bucket at a time by scooping the water and pouring it on the plants. Double duty, kids stayed cool and the plants got watered.
I added some color and diversity to the mix by rescuing plants from neighboring lots that were scheduled to be cleared for building (remember to check with the builder before you do this). I was able to get 2 Texas Redbuds, a Hop Tree, and a Texas Buckeye this way. The only thing it cost me was sweat and time. I also traded plants, clippings, bulbs, and seeds with neighbors and friends, improving all of our yards.
We slowly cut back the amount of yard that was covered in lawn, converting it to a small grove of native trees and plants. Less to mow, YAY! and it provided privacy and coolness by shading the front porch. The trees provided shelter, food, and a place for birds to nest. Even in winter the trees provided food like this soapberry tree feeding cedar waxwings.
So what kind of animals did we see? Mostly birds, butterflies/caterpillars, and squirrels. We had lizards and toads but they learned to be wary of a house full of boys and weren't often spotted out in the open. We did get temporary visitors like rabbits and possums that wandered in from a nearby flood plain. These usually stayed a night or two and wandered off again.
This is the front view of my old house. You can see the stand of trees to the side of the house. Neatly mowed lawns and clean flower beds helped keep the HOA off our backs about the thicket of trees. The flower beds were heavily mulched to keep out weeds and retain water.
This is the side view, the large trees to the right of the picture are the back side of the thicket. It took us about 4 years to change the yard from new home blah to nature habitat. We were lucky the builder had left many of the trees that eventually formed the thicket. We added in native shrubs and trees to fill in blank spots.
NWF has tip sheets to help you attract wildlife to your yard or balcony. The Canadian Wildlife Federation has a similar program as does Australia. Check with your local nursery, parks and wildlife department, or follow the links above for help in picking out native plants for your area. Have fun gardening, and enjoy nature!