Gardens are haven for birds, wildlife

Island has 14 NWF certified gardens

Linda Stephens-Urbaniak
On Gardening

One of the things gardeners can do to help the environment is to certify their yard as an official Wildlife Habitat. Here in King County, the National Wildlife Federation has certified more than 1,100 such sites with 14 here on Mercer Island, according to Luisa Grant, information director of the NWF. An immediate reward is the large number of birds, butterflies, squirrels and even raccoons that will visit your garden.

The NWF started the certification program in 1973 and now has more than 75,000 habitats nationwide, including more than 2,500 schools, business and community sites. The average habitat is from 1/3 to _ acre but include everything from city balconies to large tracts larger than 1,000 acres. Their mission is to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.

For a property to become certified, it must provide the four basic elements that all wildlife need: food, water, cover and places to raise young. It must also use sustainable gardening practices by reducing or eliminating the need for fertilizers, pesticides or irrigation water. Anyone who wants to create the necessary elements can create a certified habitat, and in doing so, not only reward themselves but reward the planet by conserving areas for wildlife development. This becomes especially critical in urban and suburban settings where development replaces natural areas.

A garden is always enhanced by water and a birdbath or small pond; even water in a half-barrel or fancy pot will attract birds and dragonflies. Moving water, from a pump will also do and will also discourage mosquitoes. Food does not have to be purchased, but watching hummingbirds sipping nectar from a feeder or a flock of birds descend on birdseed placed out for their enjoyment is an exciting sight. Fruits and seeds from garden plants are consistent sources of food if you remember to leave the seed heads on or cut them and stick into bushes for a more tailored garden. Cover can be from bushes, trees and even brush piles. And a place to raise young can be anything from a hollow tree to fancy bird or bat houses. Far more birds are born in nests in trees and bushes than in any manmade structures.

The habitat management workers encourage the use of native plants; the strategic placement of trees to offer modification of heat, cold and wind, thus reducing the energy cost of our homes; and the reduction of lawn areas to reduce the need for fossil fuel-based fertilizers and the need for energy consuming mowing. As fossil fuel and fertilizers are consumed, they release carbon dioxide, a stated ingredient in global warming. By including wide varieties of plants in our yards, we help clean the air as the plants consume carbon dioxide. These actions can reduce pollution as well as saving.

David Mizejewski, NWF naturalist and host of the Animal Planet series “Backyard Habitat” says “It’s easy to feel that there is no hope for wildlife in our modern world of smog, traffic and asphalt. But there is hope. Each of us can make our own piece of the Earth a healthy, green space that helps restore the ecological balance. Encouraging your neighbors to join with you can lead to a neighborhood or community habitat that provides wildlife with greater incentive to call your piece of the Earth home.”

If you would like to register your yard as a backyard wildlife habitat, you can contact the National Wildlife Federation at The registration form can be downloaded from the site. It would be exciting if there were more certified habitats next year here on Mercer Island.

Linda Stephens-Urbaniak can be reached at

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