Habitat at Home

Habitat at Home, formerly known as the Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary Program, is the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's (WDFW) effort to encourage Washingtonians to connect with nature where they live. We hope these resources will help you discover fun and effective ways you can help support wildlife, regardless of your expertise, how much space you have, or where you live.

Girl prepares plants for garden
Get kids involved in wildlife conservation!

By creating habitat for wildlife at home, you are helping to offset the acres of habitat that are lost to housing and urban development each year in Washington. Every little bit can help decrease habitat fragmentation, especially in highly urbanized areas. 

What makes a habitat?

A habitat is a combination of four elements:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter
  • Space to raise young and survive

If your garden or outdoor space provides these elements and you participate in sustainable practices, such as using native plants or reducing pesticide use, apply for a yard sign to recognize your Habitat at Home. 

If you can't provide all of the elements of a habitat - it's ok! Providing one or any combination of these elements can still benefit habitat and wildlife conservation. 

Did you know? Wildlife habitat doesn't just benefit wildlife, it can benefit you, too. Native plants are adapted to the natural rainfall in your area, and thus require less maintenance. Plants also help reduce storm runoff and can decrease the heat island effect on your home. 

Questions about wildlife around your home? See our Living with Wildlife page.

Contact staff

Questions about our Habitat at Home program or resources? Reach out to us!

Apply for a Habitat at Home yard sign

If your garden provides all four elements of a habitat, you qualify to receive a yard sign!*

Download a printable yard sign application 

*Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we are experiencing shipping delays. Thank you for your patience!

Elements of a habitat

habitat at home yard sign
Apply for a yard sign! Woodland Park Zoo

Food 

Plants are the best food source for wildlife. In addition to providing food, plants can also attract insect populations that can be benefit wildlife. In lieu of plants, feeders can be used to supplement as well. Some examples include seeds, nuts, berries, suet cakes, or pollen.

Consider a variety of plants or food sources that can provide food year round for wildlife. Pay attention to what your backyard wildlife are eating and adjust accordingly!

Water 

A birdbath or garden pond is the perfect place for animals to bathe and drink water. Be sure to check that your bath is accessible to wildlife and is kept clean. For example, the edges of decorative bird baths can be too slippery for birds to hold a grip. Rough surfaces work better!

Pro tip: Flower-pot trays are great makeshift bird baths! Learn how to create your own birdbath or amphibian pond.

Shelter

Wildlife need a place to rest and escape from the weather and predators. Some examples of providing shelter include dense shrubs, a log pile, evergreens, or snags.

  • Leave dead trees: Known as snags, dead trees are valuable to wildlife, including bats and birds. Leave them if they pose no safety hazard.
  • Add bird houses: A bird house can substitute for snags.
  • Secure your house: Seal off any openings around your house. House sparrows and starlings may nest in openings, and these non-native birds are undesirable competitors for food and nesting cavities. Bird houses and feeders should be designed and managed to reduce use by sparrows and starlings.

Space to raise young 

A source of cover can often double as a place to raise young wildlife. Birdhouses, small trees, shrubs, or plants for pollinators are all good examples. You can also provide nesting materials such as yarn, pet hair, dried grass, and straw. Check out some ways you can make your own sources of cover below, in our Do-It-Yourself backyard wildlife resources section.

Sustainable practices

There are many simple ways to practice resource conservation in your Habitat at Home!

Compost

Learn how you can reduce waste and enrich your soil. Follow this easy guide from the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Create a raingarden

Help reduce pollutants in stormwater runoff and benefit all sorts of wildlife, including salmon and orcas! Find out why they're so important, and check out these helpful classes to get you started. Western WA Guidebook, plant chart page 70.

Keep cats indoors

Visit the American Bird Conservancy website for information on their "Cats Indoors!" program for ideas on how to keep your cats and wildlife safe.

Reduce or eliminate chemical use

Some animals, like owls, can be poisoned from eating prey that has eaten chemicals or poison. Opt for chemical-free options whenever possible.

Use pesticide-free plants

Look for plants that have not been treated with neonicotinoid pesticides. Neonicotinoids are present throughout the entire plant that has been treated with it. This includes floral nectar and pollen. Even low levels can have an impact on pollinators. Check with your nursery to verify this information if you can't find it on the label that comes with your plant. Neonicotinoids can go by many names, including but not limited to imidacloprid and clothianidin.

Recognize your habitat

Apply for a yard sign to recognize your backyard as a wildlife habitat through our Habitat at Home Program. For a national certification, check out the National Wildlife Federation's Certified Wildlife Habitat Program.

Creating your habitat

Birds

Shelter

Food

Safety

Looking for plants for birds? See our 'food' section above.

Pollinators

Shelter

Looking for plants for pollinators? See our 'food' section above.

Bats

Curious or unsure about bats on your property? Learn more about bats and why they're important!

Shelter

Reptiles and amphibians

Shelter