Elements of a habitat garden

Simple guidelines to create essential habitats

Lauren Bonar Swezey and Sharon Cohoon

As housing and commercial developments spread into wildlands, they encroach upon the habitats that would supply―in their natural state―all the food, water, and shelter that birds and other creatures need to live. By incorporating these resources into your garden, you can help many critters survive as their true habitats disappear.

Food. To keep wildlife in the garden, you need to offer a year-round food supply. "Diversity is the key to enticing the greatest variety of wildlife," says Judy Adler, environmental educator and owner of a backyard wildlife habitat in Walnut Creek, California.

To provide food, use native plants (which many creatures have adapted to in the wild), or blend natives with non-natives. Create a living smorgasbord that includes plants with berries, foliage, fruit, nectar, nuts, pollen, sap, and seeds, so critters can dine on what they like. Insects also provide food for birds, toads, and other creatures. (For all wildlife to thrive, it's critical that you avoid using toxic chemicals in the garden.)