Wild Side

Creating a Certified Wildlife Habitat in your yard protects native species

Louisiana Wildlife Federation, the Bayou State’s leading organization of sportsmen and conservationists, is on a mission to be the voice of Louisiana’s wildlife and natural resources. One way the organization does so is through its Garden for Wildlife program. “LWF has partnered with the National Wildlife Federation through this program to increase habitats for backyard wildlife species and to protect pollinator populations in Louisiana,” says Stacy Ortego, LWF outreach coordinator. “A key aspect of this program is the Certified Wildlife Habitat.”

These spaces provide adequate sources of food, water, cover and places for wildlife to raise their young — all while using sustainable practices. To create these habitats, certain features (bird and squirrel feeders, birdbaths, roosting boxes and host plants for caterpillars) need to be included. The NWF provides a checklist (nwf.org), and, when residents are ready to certify their habitat, they can complete an online application (nwf.org/certifiedwildlifehabitat). 

Creating Certified Wildlife Habitats is important to provide refuge for declining populations of birds, bees and butterflies, among other living organisms. “In 2019, a study by a team of international scientists published in the journal Science concluded that, since 1970, there’s been a 30 percent decline in wild bird populations in the United States and Canada — a staggering loss of nearly 3 billion birds in the last 50 years,” Ortego says. “Among the most impacted species are sparrows, blackbirds and finches.” 

Also, while honeybees (Louisiana’s state insect) are important, so are our more than 200 native bee species. “Most native bees are solitary and do not have a hive to rely on for survival, so be sure to offer plants that native bees use for nectar and pollen,” Ortego says. “Louisiana also is important for spring breeding of monarchs, a species that has recently been added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List due to steep declines in population size over the past decade. Each fall, monarchs make the 2,500-mile journey from Canada to Mexico, passing through Louisiana along the way.”

In addition to providing refuge for birds, residents can set up bee hotels for species that nest above ground (or patches of soil free from mulch for those that nest below ground) and plant milkweed to support monarchs. Sustainable practices include soil and water conservation (think drip irrigation and mulch), controlling exotic species (by planting native plants) and using organic practices (forgoing the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and using compost).

“Remember that providing habitat for wildlife isn’t just to invite birds, bees and butterflies to your garden,” Ortego says. “Bugs are a key part of that habitat and serve as a critical food source for those species. Amphibians such as frogs and salamanders, and reptiles like lizards, anoles and skinks, are also part of the ecosystem.”

Include these native plant species to protect Louisiana wildlife.

This year, the Louisiana Legislature approved an official state butterfly, the Gulf fritillary, which is the only butterfly indigenous to Louisiana. Just as monarchs need milkweed, Gulf fritillaries need passionflower (aka maypop) for their larvae.

American holly is an evergreen shrub that provides red berries for birds like wrens, sparrows and nuthatches. Other shrubs that do well in Louisiana include oakleaf hydrangea, sweetbell, firebush, Turk’s cap, beautyberry and coral bean. Hummingbirds also love the red buckeye, a small tree that flowers in the spring.

Flowers could include purple coneflower, scarlet sage, Simpson rosinweed, gaura, bushy aster, narrow-leaf sunflower, black-eyed Susan and goldenrod.

Visit Audubon’s native plant database to find more. audubon.org/native-plants

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