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Our backyard is filled with activity. The girls love to spend time out back playing, helping in the garden, and exploring all of their nature neighbors. There are beetles, spiders, birds, bunnies, plants, ground squirrels, and the occasional turkey. Not too long ago the girls tipped over an oversized plastic pot and found what they dubbed Bugtopia. Hours were spent just watching the bugs build, gather food, and do what bugs do.
It takes time, energy, and money to build it up a backyard habitat so we’re taking our time on it.
Another reason we’re taking our time with our habitat growth is due to the learning experience. Just this year we’ve learned about different creatures in our yard, some beneficial, some destructive. Since we’re not nature experts we need to allow ourselves time to learn how our backyard ecosystem will work. If we didn’t grow the backyard habitat slowly we’d be overwhelmed with issues and trying to solve them all at once.
I can only imagine what it would be like to try to figure out how to control voles, Japanese beetles, cabbage worms, asparagus beetles, and wasps all in the same summer, and that’s not even starting on the different invasive plants that are sprouting up around here. Luckily it seems to be about one new problem a summer, so we’ve been able to spend a good deal of time learning about the creatures and plants so we can properly address the issue and know what works for the next year if they come back.
Reducing your lawn and building up a habitat provides a lot more benefits than a pretty place to sit, less mowing, and a new home for wildlife. Creating a backyard habitat also provides students with educational opportunities on a wide variety of topics.
- native animals
- food chain
- food web
- native plants
- plant biology
- observation skills
- native insects
- bird watching
- problem solving skills
What Do You Need to Create a Backyard Habitat?
What you need for your backyard habitat depends on what you want to attract. For example, this fall we’ll be planting milkweed so it will grow next spring to attract monarchs. We also have a lot of hawks in our area, so in order to attract smaller birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, we need to make sure there is plenty of cover for protection.
The first thing you’ll want to do is design a plan. Get the kids involved with this part. Map out your backyard, then decide what you want to attract and what you’ll need to keep them around.
Here are some basic tips on what types of things you’ll want to consider when designing a backyard habitat. Ask the kids questions related to these tips and let them do the problem solving to determine what to add over the years to accomplish your goals.
- What are the native animals in your area?
- What animals do you want to attract to your backyard?
- How can you provide their basic needs? (Food, water, shelter, safe place to raise young)
- What are some native plants?
- What are the natural predators of the plants/animals you want to attract?
- Do some plants grow better around other plants?
- What are the native insects?
- How will the food chain affect your backyard habitat? Do you need to plant certain plants? Attract certain insects for food? Attract certain animals to help control pest insects?
Resources for Creating a Backyard Habitat
- Your local extension office can be a great source for learning about native plants and animals, plant/animal identification, pest control, and a wide variety of other information.
- National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife site has a great information about creating backyard habitats as well as offering a way for you to certify your own backyard habitat. You’ll also find some wonderful databases to help you find the right native plants for your area.
- USDA’s list of introduced, invasive and noxious plants. This is an important list because these are the plants that won’t provide much in terms of food or benefit to local animals and insects. The plants aren’t native, so they don’t do much for the habitat. These are the plants you want to get rid of and replace with native species.
- Natural Resources Conservation Services has detailed information and tips about creating backyard habitats. It’s a fantastic read, and I highly suggest going over it before you start planning.
- Humane Backyard is another great site sharing a lot of information, tips and importance about moving away from the traditional lawn and creating a wildlife habitat.
- Even This Old House is on the mission to help you create a backyard habitat that will be a win/win for both you and your nature neighbors.
Build it Yourself Backyard Habitat Ideas
Get creative and create your own structures to help provide your habitat dwellers with food, water, shelter and a place for their young.
- Bird Houses
- Bird Feeders
- Toad Houses
- Bat Houses
- Bee House/Hotel
- Butterfly House
- Bird Bath
- Insect Hotel
- Hummingbird feeders
Books and Other Materials
Looking for some materials to supplement your educational goals related to backyard habitats? Try out some of these titles and products.
What have you been adding to your backyard habitat? Share your accomplishments or future ideas in the comments below.