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How to Create a Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Backyard wildlife habitats need to have at least one source of water, and installing a small pond is one way to meet this requirement. See more pictures of gardens.
Michael Cogliantry/Riser/Getty Images

­­Many nature lovers jump on the fastest road out­ of town on weekends to spend some time in the great outdoors, but others take a different route. When they want to bask in the beauty of nature, all they have to do is mosey out back. Although their yard may be in the depths of the co­ncrete jungle, they've customized them into an urban oasis where they can coax nature to come to them.

People with these fantastic gardens can simply enjoy them, or, if they're interested, they can apply to the National Wildlife Federation to have their yards certified as a backyard wildlife habitat. There are a number of requirements a garden must meet to be eligible, which we'll­ learn about in this article.

Gardens designated as backyard wildlife habitats (also known as certified wildlife habitats and backyard wildlife sanctuaries) serve a couple of purposes -- not all of them solely for nature's benefit. For instance, birdwatcher­s, butterfly aficionados and gardening enthusiasts all can practice their favorite hobbies without having to leave home. What's more, the habitat's style can also add a dimension of privacy and help boost a house's bottom line.

­On the other hand, certified yards help wildlife in a ­number of ways. Habitat loss and ecological degradation have taken a huge toll on animal and plant populations. Your backyard won't salvage the situation singlehandedly, but every little bit helps. For instance, you improve the environment when you care for a wildlife-friendly garden by composting and reducing the use of chemical pesticides. Soil quality gradually improves, some CO2 gets soaked up and organic garbage doesn't choke up our landfills. If everybody in the United States composted their yard waste and discarded food scraps, the effort could divert 24 percent of municipal solid waste out of our dumps [source: EPA]. Keep in mind that animals do their fair share of helpful caretaking by pollinating plants, dispersing seeds and getting rid of pesky insects.

On the next page, we'll take a look at the main elements necessary for certification and learn why each one is so fundamental.