For more information on the Living With Wildlife series, contact the WDFW Wildlife Program




Habitat Quality

In addition to providing basic wildlife needs, your backyard habitat should have other attributes. Consider the following when designing your yard: Diversity, Layering, Edges, and Native Plants.

These will help your design become a more livable and lasting place for wildlife.

Having a mix of different types of plants provides diversity. To attract many species of wildlife, provide a variety of evergreen and deciduous trees, and different seed bearing, fruit bearing, and nectar producing shrubs and flowers. (See Fig. 1).

Figure 1. A habitat with variety-or diversity-means wildlife will have more to choose from, so they are more likely to find what they need. Habitat diversity allows more animals to successfully coexist in your yard.

Low habitat

Low habitat diversity equals
fewer wildlife species

High habitat

High habitat diversity equals
more wildlife species.

Naturally-occurring plants grow in many layers. They include tall trees, short shrubs and ground cover, rather than all the same height. Each level provides a home for varying wildlife species.

Layering can be accomplished by having the tallest trees at the edge of your property. In front of these should come the smaller deciduous trees, then tall shrubs, lower shrubs, and finally the ground cover. Plants and ground covers tolerant of shade should be planted underneath the tall plants. (Fig.2)

 Vegetation layer distribution
Figure 2. Different species of wildlife, especially birds, live at different heights in the vegetation. Having many layers of vegetation in your landscape allows wildlife to select the layer to which they are best adapted for survival. Missing plant layers equals missing wildlife species.

Figure 3. Edges

Forest edge example
Edges occur where different types of habitat meet. This example shows a forest edge meeting a cleared opening.

Edges refer to the area where two habitat types meet. When trees and shrubs meet a grassy area or stream, for example, they create an edge. Edges are important because they support a variety of wildlife.

Most backyards can use edges to benefit wildlife. Those in your yard should mimic natural edges. This means there should be layers of vegetation with curved and irregular borders, much like the one would find along a natural stream. (See Fig. 3.)

Native Plants
The best habitat for native wildlife is one with native plants, plants that have evolved and occur naturally in your area. Native plants are more closely matched to local soils, climate and wildlife. They will be better, in the long run, at providing the right kinds of food, shelter and diversity needed by wildlife. Native plants typically need less maintenance than non-natives.

While some native plants are readily available, others may be difficult to find. Check with nurseries listed in the yellow pages. Call Urban Horticulture Center (206) 685-8033 at the University of Washington, or check online at: , and Washington Native Plant Society (1-888) 288-8022, or check online at: The Washington State University Cooperative Extension ( publishes a nursery guide including native plants sources. When it is not possible to use native plants, choose plants adapted to local site conditions.