Department of Fish and Wildlife and University of Washington
Press have just published Landscaping
for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest. Homeowners,
property owners, professional wildlife managers, landscape
architects, and garden designers will all find it invaluable.
When we think
of wildlife, often we think of creatures such as eagles, otters
or elk, creatures we must go see in remote locations. But you don’t
have to trek through the wilderness to enjoy wildlife. Whether you
live in an urban, suburban or rural setting, whether you live in
an apartment or a sprawling mansion, wildlife is as close as your
this fact: A typical neighborhood in Washington has more than
25 species of birds and mammals. Hawks, raccoons, and even foxes,
frequent some Washington neighborhoods. Robins, squirrels and chickadees
are so familiar to us, we hardly think of them as wildlife.
While each backyard
is unique, every backyard is a habitat. That makes each of us a
habitat manager. As good habitat managers it is our task to strengthen
and maintain a healthy living community.
stewardship begins in our own backyards.
we plant trees, shrubs, and flowers around our homes, we are also
building homes for a whole community of animals. Even if we plant
only a few useful plants, we are improving the habitat for wildlife.
Whether your landscape is appropriate for wildlife or you are starting
from the ground up, this booklet will help you inventory and evaluate
habitat on your property, and how to make your yard suit the needs
of wildlife. Whether you spend a weekend, a year, or a lifetime
doing it. Your backyard can become a better home for the wildlife
already living there and a home for new wild neighbors.
habitat should have food, water, shelter and space. Enhancing your
yard for wildlife means providing one or all of these basic needs.
Food - Seeds, berries, nuts, flower nectar, insects, and other wildlife
Water - Birdbaths, dripping faucets, ponds, puddles, streams
Shelter - Trees, shrubs, brush piles, rock walls, rock piles, hollow
Space - Corridors, territories, quiet space, open space
A variety of food sources in your yard allows a variety of wildlife
to use it. Provide a good mix of plants that produce seed or fruit
at different times of the year. Insects are a very important part
of the diet of most songbirds, so try to avoid insecticides. After
providing trees and shrubs, you may want to consider bird feeders.
These are described in our publication “Winter Feeding of
Wild Birds Around the Home.”
Animals will walk; fly or crawl a great distance just for a drink
because some form of water is essential. Having a birdbath or other
source of water in your yard will lure many kinds of wildlife.
Wildlife must have safe places where they are free from danger and
bad weather and can raise their offspring. Most animals find shelter
in trees or shrubs. Leaf litter and dead branches provide shelter
for insects and amphibians. Dense vegetation provides buffers between
wildlife habitat and busy areas such as driveways. If possible,
designate a special area of your yard for wildlife.
Is your backyard habitat large enough for wildlife? Most birds and
mammals need more that the average backyard allows, but that doesn’t
mean they won’t visit or nest in your yard. An animal may
need less space if other requirements are abundant.
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).
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.
habitat diversity equals
fewer wildlife species
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.
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)
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
occur where different types of habitat meet. This example
shows a forest edge meeting a cleared opening.
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.
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.)
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: http://depts.washington.edu/urbhort/ , and Washington Native Plant Society (1-888) 288-8022, or check
online at: http://www.wnps.org The Washington State University Cooperative Extension (http://ext.wsu.edu/)
publishes a nursery guide including native plants sources. When
it is not possible to use native plants, choose plants adapted to
local site conditions.
your yard for wildlife involves a bit more than adding plants with
berries. It means considering other aspects of the environment such
as water, soil, climate and sun.
be discouraged if you have never designed your own landscape, and
don’t worry if you don’t have a degree in wildlife science.
Landscaping can be fun, especially with a bit of planning.
Every good landscape
starts with a plan that will help you establish priorities and guide
the development of your yard over the years.
Many of us “plan”
by trial and error. In our living rooms, we move couches and chairs
about in an effort to find the right look. It isn’t easy,
though, to move trees around to find the best landscape arrangement.
That makes planning all the more important. Sketch out alternative
landscape arrangements before beginning any work. It will help prevent
costly mistakes and wasted time. Planning also helps you identify
ecological relationships in your yard that you may not have noticed.
Creating a landscape for wildlife involves four basic steps:
1. Outline needs
2. Inventory existing conditions
3. Evaluate conditions
4. Design a plan
Your needs: Think about how you like to use your backyard. Do you like
to eat or visit with family and friends in a shaded area? Do you
like to read in a quiet, secluded area? Do your children like
to play in a sandbox?
can accommodate these and other activities while providing for
the needs of wildlife. Wildlife enhancement doesn’t mean
giving up the activities you enjoy, but rather being sensitive
to the needs of wildlife.
separate your high-use areas, for example, from those for wildlife.
In defining your needs, make a list of the kinds of activities,
features, space, and qualities you want in your yard. Garden design
books are good sources of ideas and are available at your local
needs: Wildlife will only visit your backyard if it has the
proper combination of the four habitat needs
the requirements for varying wildlife species may seem overwhelming,
but don’t despair. Vegetation is the key to attracting most
species of wildlife. Providing an abundance of trees and shrubs
meets the survival requirements for most small wildlife in residential
areas of Washington.
second step in designing a landscape for wildlife is to inventory
and map the existing conditions in your yard.
obtained during the inventory must be put on a base map of your
property. Making a base map isn’t difficult, and it will
help you create an effective habitat. The purpose of the inventory
base map is to help you know what you already have in your yard
and what you need to add to make it better for wildlife. See Fig.
4 for an example of a base map.
map will be used in the last two steps: evaluating your yard and
designing a habitat site plan. You will be adding different ideas
and possibilities to your base map so either use tracing paper
over the map or make several photocopies of it.
Now that you
have made an inventory of your backyard, you can evaluate its
present and potential effectiveness as a habitat.
An easy tool
for evaluating your yard is the “bubble diagram.”
Bubble diagrams are preliminary sketches drawn on tracing paper
or photocopies of the base map. Sketch only broad areas of interest
and potential. Avoid details that will probably change later anyway.
Draw circles around areas as if they were “blobs”
of space, ignoring details of shapes. Use heavy arrows to show
views and heavy lines to show walls of vegetation or structures.
An example of a bubble diagram is shown in Fig. 5.
Designing with Bubble Diagrams
evaluation of existing conditions and future possiblities
is sketched in bubble diagrams to outline preliminary
ideas for the landscape.
the right habitat features is very important, the way in which you
put it all together could add to the success of your habitat. Wildlife
may not use the area you set aside for them if, for example, the
area is crisscrossed by busy paths. Little wildlife will venture
into your quiet viewing area if it is surrounded by a basketball
court and driveway.
Step 1: Determine the dimensions of your property. Then decide on a scale
for your map - how big you want the map to be and how much detail
you want to show. For example, a map drawn at a scale where 1 inch
on paper equals 4 feet on the property will be larger and show more
of the small features than a map drawn at a scale of 1” =16’.
For personal use, a sketch with estimated measurements is generally
Your base map
will be easier to make and read if you use a ruler or or other straight
edge, colored pencils, grid paper, and templates for drawing circles,
squares, and other shapes.
Step 2: On the base map, indicate dimensions and show the location of your
house and other buildings, including outside doors and windows,
decks, patios, sidewalks, driveways, utilities, and other structures
listed on the checklist. See Checklist Show underground pipes, sprinklers, utilities, etc.
Step 3: Show locations and approximate spread of existing trees, shrubs,
lawn, and other vegetation features. Note any plants that affect
energy conservation and comfort in your home (summer shade, winter
sun, shelter from wind, etc.)
Step 4: Mark the locations of special wildlife features on your base map. These include tree cavities, nesting areas, popular perches, drinking
and feeding area, and travel corridors.
Step 5: Outline areas of full sun and full shade. Record drainage patterns
(where rainwater falls and collects), wet areas, ponds and streams,
slopes, and wind patterns.
Step 6: Show neighboring trees, buildings, roads, and other things on adjacent
property that affects your yard.
Step 7: Examine your soil and note areas where soils may be different. Is
it rocky, sandy, clay, or organic? If you want, you can test the
soils in each of these areas for soil composition, acidity, and
nutrients. Test kits can be purchased at garden supply stores, or
you can obtain a soils test kit from your local WSU Cooperative
Extension Office. The Extension Office will provide instructions
and the address of a soils laboratory where your soil can be scientifically
tested for a modest fee.
hard surfaces and people areas
Consider your space requirements for access, entertainment, outdoor
play, and security. Screen and buffer busy driveways and play areas.
Where might tree roots interfere with septic or sewer systems? Screen
bare fences with dense shrubs.
Does your present landscape provide much food, cover, and safe
travel corridors for wildlife? How many of your plants are native
to the Washington? Are there unused lawn areas that could be replanted
with native trees and shrubs? What areas have low diversity and
need a better mix of plants? Where can edges be increased by modifying
planting borders? Are there solitary trees that could have shrubs
and groundcover put under them? Where would a screen of plantings
improve outdoor privacy? Could a portion of a vegetable garden be
“given” to wildlife? Where are the most important wildlife
trees? Where could you plant specialty gardens for hummingbirds
Where does wildlife concentrate now? How could these areas be
preserved? Are there dead trees or limbs that can be safely preserved
for perching or nesting? If a tree has to be removed, could you
leave a 6-foot to 10-foot stump for a nest cavity? Where would be
a good spot for a feeder, birdhouse, or birdbath? Do you have a
corner where you could build a brush or rock pile for wildlife?
Where are the sun and shade areas? Do you need shade from the hot
summer sun, and do you need to preserve valuable winter solar radiation?
Where do cool summer breezes come from and where might you want
buffers from cold winter winds? Would a low, wet area be a good
place for wetland plants? Does an existing stream or pond have adequate
Will a neighboring building shade out your planned vegetable garden?
Will a busy road pose a danger to any animals you want to attract?
Will your new pond kill the roots of a valuable neighboring tree?
Will your neighbors cooperate in your landscaping efforts or do
they plan to clear vegetation? Will your habitat cause any problems
for a neighbor?
Are there “problem” soils (e.g. poor nutrients, water-logged)?
Could you use those problem conditions to create special habitats
with plants? Where do you need to improve the soil? (Consult with
a nursery or landscape specialist, county extension agent, the US
Soil Conservation Service, or other plant and soil experts.
Where are the desirable and undesirable views from different parts
of the yard, deck, or windows? How can these be saved or changed
with plantings? What are your outdoor spaces like: open/enclosed,
small/large, varied/uniform, formal/natural, smooth/rough, colorful/plain,
comfortable/uncomfortable? What feelings do you want? How could
different plantings enhance these feelings?
How much yard work do you want to do? Where are good areas for outdoor
play, entertainment, and relaxation? What are the best pathways
for moving around in the yard? Where do you want outdoor privacy?
Is there a bare, noisy area that would be better for a driveway,
swimming pool, or entertainment area than for wildlife plantings?
with Bubble Diagrams
with different designs using bubble diagrams. Testing
ideas on paper is easier than rearranging plants in the
yard. Try to develop several alternative designs.
a site plan by drawing out your ideas on bubble diagrams using photocopies
or tracing paper laid over your base map. Don’t worry at first
about how workable your ideas are; get them down on paper and fine-tune
later. Decide where spaces and features will go and experiment with
reshaping, reducing, enlarging, relocation, or adding features to
fit your needs and goals. Draw bubbles around areas where you want
activities, such as children’s play, entertainment, or wildlife
observation. Use circles, x’s or other symbols for features
such as a birdbath or bench. Draw arrows where you want views and
dotted lines for potential pathways.
Note the types
of plants you want to put in, such as conifers, low deciduous shrubs,
or tall evergreen hedges. It may be helpful to write in some of
your ideas and objectives, such as building a deck around this tree,
keep view of pond from living room, or relocate barbecue to patio.
(See Fig. 6.)
final plan will be most successful if you develop several of these
bubble diagrams. For example, you may have a “Plan A”
that gives over more space to wildlife, and “Plan B”
that gives more space to human activities. Or you may develop three
different plans that range from highest to lowest cost or most change
to least change. The more experimenting you do on paper, the more
likely you will avoid future problems when implementing your final
plan. There is no one best answer, everyone’s habitat will
be different, and you may come up with more than one good plan for
As much as possible, provide large areas without buildings, pavings,
or paths. Provide some “undisturbed” sanctuaries and
safe travel corridors for sensitive wildlife.
Disturbance to wildlife can be lessened if areas with busy human
activity are close together and kept as small as possible. Avoid
placing busy areas in good existing wildlife habitat.
Old well-established trees or ones that form clumps are especially
valuable. Avoid putting new features or structures where they will
damage existing tree. Remember that a tree’s roots grow far
out from its trunk, and construction too close to the roosts may
affect the tree.
Locate and shape human activity areas, such as patios and decks,
so that wildlife can be viewed from inside the house.
Nature is the best model for a healthy and valuable wildlife habitat.
In nature, things are the way they are and where they are because
of complex ecological relationships. Nature understands this perfectly,
while we have only incomplete knowledge. For some ideas of how nature
provides for wildlife, look at the arrangements of plants along
a stream or pond, around a meadow, or in a forest. The amount and
arrangement of plants in a good backyard habitat should be similar
to these natural areas. Let the natural world be your best teacher.
7. Final Habitat Landscape Plan
final habitat landscape plan contains all of the details.
This kind of plan is simply a refinement of the previous
bubble diagrams, and it will be the guide as you put down
the pencil and pick up the shovel.
After you have
drawn your ideas, compare these preliminary plans to see which best
fits your needs and those of wildlife. You can combine the best
features of each to make your ideal plan. Once you’ve decided
what you want, you now need to turn your bubble diagram into a landscape
plan. Now is the time to add the details of plant species and materials
(such as types of paving or fencing), and locations and dimensions
of these features.
The most involved
task will be selecting plants for different parts of your yard (see Choosing Plants). For example, if you
want a tall evergreen hedge for privacy: which plants have dense foliage,
grow about 10 feet tall, can tolerate your specific environmental
conditions, and are good for wildlife? Or, for summer shade and winter
sun: what plants are deciduous, grow to 30 feet or more, and offer
good food for wildlife?
will need to be added. For example, if you want a pond you need
to determine if it will be excavated, whether lined with a flexible
liner or clay or both, how it will be cleaned, and if you want recirculating
When all the
details have been worked out, you can draw up a final landscape
plan. Accuracy is important, because it will be the “blueprint”
that will guide your habitat construction and development over time.
(See Fig. 7).
- Choose plants
that will provide seeds, berries, nectar (flowers), and good cover.
Avoid sterile varieties (those that do not produce fruits of seeds).
- Pay attention
to sun, water, and soil needs of each plant species and place
them in your yard where they will best flourish. Most plants are
fairly tolerant but prefer certain conditions. Be sure to check
with nurseries and garden books.
height at maturity and other features such as fall color, showy
flowers, aroma, or unique leaf shape. Combine for aesthetic variety.
- Keep in mind
how plants aid in energy conservation and comfort by letting in
winter sun, protecting from prevailing winter winds, and shading
the summer heat. Evergreens give winter protection for you and
wildlife but will block the sun. Many deciduous trees have good
food for wildlife and allow in winter warmth; they do not protect
from winter winds.
- Note any
special problems some plants might have, such as weak wood, messy
fruit, over patios, or invasive roots.
- You will
probably find more than one plant that fits the needs of a certain
spot. Cost, availability, and personal preferences for unique
features may influence your final selection.
Now that you’ve done your homework, it’s time to put
your ideas into action. Before you begin, get some final evaluations
from friends to help spot oversights or potential problems in your
plan. A nursery staff person can also offer good review.
At this point,
the techniques required to plant a yard for wildlife are the same
as planting and maintaining a yard for any other purpose. Refer
to garden books and nurseries for information on soil preparation,
planting techniques, watering, fertilizing, pest and disease control,
pruning, etc. One of the best guides is Sunset’s New Western
Finally, don’t forget to relax and enjoy your developing landscape.
It will take time to mature and a year or two may go by before it
is discovered by wildlife. A more conscious awareness of the plants
and animals in your yard will add a new dimension of colors, sights,
and sounds to your outdoor experiences. Learning about the living
things in your yard and experimenting with new ways to furnish habitat
resources will provide benefits to you and to the animals that share
your living space.
Avoid pesticides as much as possible. Most of the birds in your
neighborhood, especially young birds still in the nest, need insects
for survival. Only a few insects are really “bad”, but
chemical pesticides kill good insects as well as bad ones.
integrated pest management. A good source of information is your
county extension office or contact the Washington State University
Cooperative Extension (http://ext.wsu.edu/)
Also see Native Plants
- Put up birdhouses
in March for chickadees, wrens, swallows, and woodpeckers.
- Provide separate
bird feeders for sunflower seeds, thistle seeds, and suet so birds
can choose their favorite.
- Plant specialty
gardens such as flowering patches for hummingbirds and butterflies
- Plant extra
for wildlife in your vegetable garden and let it go to seed in
the fall for your bird-feeding program.
- Leave shrubs
unpruned as much as possible.
- Mulch with
lawn clippings and leaf litter, and pile shrub and tree clippings
under your trees.
- Make a dust
bath for birds (a shallow hollow in the ground with dry dirt).
a log in a secluded spot for salamanders and for wrens, sparrows,
robins, and towhees to perch on and look for bugs.
- Keep a diary
of your wildlife observations.
Join the Department
of Fish and Wildlife’s Backyard Sanctuary Program and officially
designate your yard as a special place for wildlife. For information
go online to WDFW Backyard Sanctuary Program,
or write to:
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Backyard Sanctuary Program
600 Capitol Way N
Olympia, WA 98501-1091
following features should be considered when designing your backyard
habitat. Mark the location of existing items on your base map.
- House and
- Doors and
windows, especially those with views
and underground utilities
play area and play structures
trees and shrubs; note spread
- Lawn areas
- Garden areas
- Flower boxes
- Tree Cavities
- Dead or partly
dead trees (snags)
- Nesting areas
- Refuge areas
- Travel corridors
bird feeders, bird baths, bird houses
- Hazards to
- Sunny areas,
- Wet areas,
winds, summer and winter
- Sources of
- Soil composition
for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest by
Russell Link, 1999.
Plants for the Inland Northwest. Bulletin No. EB 1579, Cooperative
Extension Service, Pullman, Washington.
Noah’s Garden: Further Adventures in Backyard Ecology. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1997.
Vegetation of Oregon and Washington by Jerry Franklin and
C. Dyrness, 1973.
with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Arthur Kruckeberg,
Second ed., 1996..
Western Garden Book. Seventh ed. Sunset Publishing, Menlo
Park, CA, 2001.
with Nature by Jeff Cox, 1991.