What is a backyard wildlife habitat?

A wildlife habitat provides the four essential elements for wildlife to live in harmony with humans:  food, water, shelter and places to raise a family.  These elements may be present naturally or provided by the homeowner.

For example, to attract birds:  put up a nectar feeder, plant flowers, shrubs or trees that provide seeds, berries or nuts.  Place a shallow bowl in a protected place and provide fresh water every few days or install a small pond or other water feature.  Put up a bird house, leave (or create) a snag that birds nest in.  Provide plants that offer shelter from predators.  All of these things can be as pleasing to you as they are to visiting birds.

What is a community wildlife habitat?

Single and multi-family residences, businesses, schools and demonstration gardens are individually certified to create a community that makes a place for wildlife.

Why should I certify my yard?

You will be protecting and enjoying wildlife in your backyard. One person does make a difference.  Camano Island was nationally certified with 500 yards; more yards have since been certified.  As more and more of your neighbors certify their yards, we create safe wildlife corridors.  Additionally, you will become a visible member of a network of thousands of people who share their living space with the wildlife in yards and communities. Your backyard can be a work in progress, as small as a deck or multiple acres. 

How can I certify my backyard or become a neighborhood coordinator? 

If you're a Camano resident, please download this form, fill it out, and mail it to the address on the form with your check so we can include you right away in our list of Certified Backyard Habitats.  If you'd rather fill out the application online and pay for it electronically, that's fine too; it will just take a bit longer for your yard to get added to our list.

You can get more information about certification and fill out the application online through the National Wildlife Federation's Garden for Wildlife website.  Information about being a neighborhood coordinator and applications are also available at our monthly meetings, tabling events, or from the community wildlife habitat committee:

Phone:  360-387-2236
Mail:  FOCIP Habitat Project
           PO Box 1385
           Stanwood, WA 98292

Certification is through the National Wildlife Federation. There is a $20 processing fee. You will receive a certificate and the NWF newsletter, Habitats, and a one-year subscription to National Wildlife magazine unless you request otherwise. You can also order a Certified Wildlife Habitat sign online or purchase one at one of our monthly meetings, but there is no requirement to display the sign.  This is a voluntary, non-monitored program.  No one will come to visit your yard to formally verify the answers on your application.  Certification stays with the property owner; if you sell, the new owners will need to re-certify if they wish to continue with the program.

Need help? 

Members of the steering committee will be happy to offer assistance and provide printed information and resource lists.  Also Friends of Camano Island Parks (FOCIP) sponsors regular educational seminars on the third Wednesday of each month.  These are held at the Camano Center, 141 NE Camano Drive at 7 PM.  Past topics have included sustainable gardening, attracting and identifying butterflies, use and identification of native plants and birding on Camano.  Also visit our demonstration gardens at Four Springs Lake Preserve, Camano Senior and Community Center, Elger Bay School, and the Madrona-Vista Fire Station.

How can I attract wildlife?

  • Food:  you can attract specific birds by choosing plants that attract that species.  Examples are red flowering currant for hummingbirds and towhees or serviceberry for goldfinches and butterflies.
  • Water:  birdbaths, water gardens, fountains or any shallow container will provide water for birds and other wildlife.  The sound of moving water is an attraction for many creatures.
  • Shelter:  bushy shrubs, thickets, hedgerows and rock piles all provide shelter for birds, snakes and small mammals.
  • Places to raise young:  cavities in trees, especially dead trees, are habitats for many birds and small mammals.  Nesting boxes for birds are another easy addition.

Healthy Habitats

“Our backyards are our private spaces. They are our pieces of the world. But a backyard is also part of a larger landscape we share with our community and with plants and wildlife.  The health and well being of all of us depends on having a clean, healthy, sustainable place to live.  How we take care of our yards and properties – the water and other resources we use, the fertilizer and pesticides we apply, the type of plants and landscape features we choose impacts the health and quality of our living space, as well as that of our human and wildlife neighbors.  Healthier yards for our families mean healthier neighborhoods for our community, and healthier habitats for all living things.”  Seattle Audubon Society, Gardening for Life.

Sustainable gardening practices can help us manage our properties in a way that improves the health of the soil, air, water and habitat for all of us.

Water quality and conservation:  grouping plants with like water needs, using soaker hose for irrigation, mulching, reducing erosion and lawn areas, eliminating chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Soil conservation: mulching, composting, reducing erosion, eliminating chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Controlling exotic species:  removing invasive plants, monitoring nesting boxes, keeping your cat indoors, restoring native plants.

Organic practices:  eliminating chemical pesticides and fertilizers, encouraging pest predators (integrated pest management), composting.

Do I have to provide a sanctuary for ALL wildlife?  

No.  Backyard Wildlife Habitats are Works in Progress and you can care for wildlife in any way in which you are comfortable.  You may choose to fence out deer or discourage them with things like sprays that contain egg yolks.  You can also help prevent critter nuisances by cleaning up spilled birdseed, not leaving pet food out,  and filling in holes in your house.

Why grow native plants? 

Native plants are defined as those plants that existed on the island before the arrival of Europeans.  Because plants and wildlife have evolved together, they are adapted to our local conditions.  Native plants will provide the best overall food sources for wildlife, while generally requiring less fertilizer, less water, and less effort to control pests.  Also native plants may support 10 to 50 times more species of wildlife than non-native plants. 

Do I have to grow only native plants? 

No.  Divide your yard into zones.  The zone nearest the house can be all exotics or a mixture of natives and exotics.  As you move away from the house, become a little “wilder” with more native plants.  If you have a large property, you can have multiple zones with the perimeter being a totally wild area.

Where do I get native plants? 

The Salal Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society has spring and fall sales at the demonstration garden on Memorial Highway in Mt. Vernon with many regional specialties that cannot be found at regular nurseries.  Watch our Calendar or Announcements and/or email for more information. Other Washington Native Plant Society chapters also have sales.

Our local conservation districts sponsor annual plant sales in the spring and also provide relatively low cost plants in quantity for year round planting/restoration projects. The Snohomish Conservation District has a sale in February at the fairgrounds in Monroe.   Get on their mailing list for a chance to place a pre-sale order.

Local nurseries such as Orchard's Nursery in Stanwood carry a variety of native plants and many are increasing their inventory of native plants.  Let them and other nurseries in the area know of your interest in purchasing plants that support wildlife and thank them for their support.

Roxie Rochat,
Dec 28, 2020, 5:50 PM