024 - How to Create a Wildlife-Friendly Yard

Habitat can be hard to come by for wildlife in urban areas. A wildlife-friendly yard provides food, water, cover, and a safe place to rear young.


Native forbs, shrubs and trees provide food for wildlife and birds with their foliage, nectar, pollen, fruit (berries, seeds, nuts, etc.), and bark. You can select the landscape plants that will attract the birds and other wildlife you want to encourage from the list at the end of this fact sheet. When food is scarce in winter it can be helpful to place feeders for birds in your yard to supplement naturally occurring food. You can also attract butterflies to your yard by supplementing their food sources. Mix 9 parts water to 1 part sugar, pour the mixture over cut up old, mushy fruit–oranges, peaches or pears–on a plate and suspend the plate high in a tree to prevent unwanted wildlife from disturbing the feeder. Hummingbirds are attracted to red, tubular flowers and feeders can provide food when flowering species are scarce. Information on hummingbird feeders, nectar recipes and the importance of maintaining clean feeders can be found online.

Homemade Fat Cakes for Birds
Bird eating a homemade fat cake
Warm 1 part fat (lard or suet) in a heavy-bottomed pan, then mix in 2 parts dry mix (any combination of bird seed, cornmeal, unsalted seeds and nuts) and stir. Poke a hole in the bottom of a single serving yogurt cup, thread string through the hole, and press the warm suet mixture into the cup around the string. Place filled cups in the freezer and when hardened, cut the yogurt cup away and hang the cake in a tree. Kitchen scraps, such as bits of fruit or vegetables, may be used in the fat cake, but avoid salty items such as salted nuts or bacon. Unsalted peanut butter may be added to the mixture along with equal parts dry mix. You can also collect large pine cones, tie a string to one end, press fat mixture onto the cone, and suspend from a tree.


Water basin

Installing a water source in your yard is a simple way to benefit wildlife and birds. Clean water is essential but often not available in the arid West. Provide water in a bird bath or other water feature. Anything that will hold water will work, like a hubcap or a similar shallow basin. Remember to clean the water source weekly and change the water two to three times a week.


Birds and other wildlife require cover to be safe from predators, weather, and people. Increasing plant structure between the ground and tree canopies with shrubs and non-woody plants is called vertical layering. By creating a multi-layered vegetation structure in your yard, you can provide cover for a variety or birds, other wildlife, and insects. Choose native plant species when possible (see list at the end of this fact sheet). When pruning vegetation and mowing your lawn, let some areas or branches go uncut. They will provide seeds and cover for small species such as insects, frogs, and other amphibians.

Safe Place to Rear Young

It takes a lot of energy for wildlife to successfully rear young in the wild. This effort increases when safe nesting spots are scarce. You can ease some of this pressure for nesting species by placing birdhouses, bat boxes or nest boxes in your yard. 

Woodpeckers, nuthatches, creepers and wrens require cavities for nesting. Leaving dead snags on the landscape will benefit these species, although large snags can be dangerous. To determine the best birdhouse design to incorporate into your yard, see recommendations from the National Wildlife Federation. Type “birdhouse” in the search feature.

You can contribute to a long-standing database on birds currently being collected by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Visit nestwatch.org and record the species you observe every day.

Wildlife-friendly Fences

Ranch Fences

Fences are an important part of any yard or landscape. They are necessary for determining property boundaries, controlling trespass, and in the case of farmers and ranchers, enclosing pastures.

Residential Fences

The most important factor to consider when constructing or retrofitting the fence in your yard is ensuring that it is visible to birds and other wildlife. When fences are difficult to see, wildlife can collide or become caught in them. If you have a wire fence in your yard, consider placing a wood rail or PVC pipe on top to increase visibility and safety for jumping deer. Many decorative fence designs can be hazards to deer or other ungulates. Fences with sharp tips should be avoided if possible. Wildlife- and bird-friendly options include chain-link, post and rail, post and pole, or board fences. You can even create a vegetative barrier with shrubs and/or small trees. Good yard barrier shrub species include thimbleberry, raspberry, blackberry, snowberry, wild rose, Oregon-grape, barberry, and firethorn.

Sharp-tipped fences, like the one in the first image, can pose danger to jumping deer and other wildlife. A wildlife-friendly fence example is in the second image.

Are bats good for your yard? Bats are the only true flying mammal in the world. Eighteen bat species exist in Utah. Of these only three exist in urban landscapes: the little brown bat, the big brown bat, and the Brazilian free-tailed bat. Their diet consists primarily of beetles, mosquitoes, moths, wasps, and midges. A single little brown bat can consume up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in just one hour. Maintaining healthy bat populations benefits ecosystems because bats pollinate flowers and crops, eat some of the most damaging agricultural insects, and disperse a wide variety of seeds. Bat populations are declining almost everywhere due to pesticides, insecticides, habitat degradation, and cave disturbances. You can easily build a bat house (see Bat Conservation International) and give these important mammals a place to live. Incorporating a bat house into your yard can help reduce pests and ensure that these important mammals have a safe place to rear their young.

Too many deer in your yard already? Every year, especially in the winter, wildlife agencies receive complaints from people that deer are eating the vegetation in their yard. There are many aspects to the complex problem, but one thing that most parties agree on is the need to improve native deer habitat. Focusing on boosting the quality of native deer habitat will likely deter deer from seeking forage in the yards and gardens of urban and suburban residents living along the Wasatch Front and elsewhere. See our factsheet here for more information about deer in landscapes.

Natives are best: Why go native? Native plants are hardy to local growing and soil conditions. Native species are more likely to be healthy and to require fewer chemical treatments and less maintenance and water than non-native species. Choosing native plants will benefit birds, other wildlife and insects, and in the long run will ultimately save time and resources. It’s important to know what is native to your particular site. Quaking aspen, for example, is native to Utah’s mountains, but not to low elevations where most people live. It does not do well in hot, dry, low-elevation sites.

Plant List for Wildlife-friendly Landscaping

The following table does not include all appropriate plants and may include plants that are not suitable for your particular situation. Learn about what the plant needs and where it can be grown well by looking through the references at the end of this fact sheet.

Plants and the Species They Benefit

Plant Type Common Name Scientific Name Hummingbirds Bees Butterflies Birds Small Mammals
Herbaceous Perennials abelia Abelia spp.        
Herbaceous Perennials ageratum, purple Ageratum spp.        
Herbaceous Perennials alyssum, sweet Lobularia maritima        
Herbaceous Perennials aster, Frikart’s Aster x frikartii        
Herbaceous Perennials bee balm, scarlet Monarda didyma    
Herbaceous Perennials beeplant, Rocky Mountain Cleome serrulata        
Herbaceous Perennials black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta        
Herbaceous Perennials bluebeard Caryopteris divaricata        
Herbaceous Perennials buckwheat, sulphurflower Eriogonum umbellatum    
Herbaceous Perennials butterfly weed Asclepias tuberosa        
Herbaceous Perennials cardinal flower Lobelia cardinalis        
Herbaceous Perennials catnip Nepeta cataria        
Herbaceous Perennials columbine Aquilegia spp.      
Herbaceous Perennials coneflower, purple Echinacea purpurea    
Herbaceous Perennials coralbells Heuchera sanguinea        
Herbaceous Perennials coreopsis, giant Coreopsis gigantea      
Herbaceous Perennials coreopsis, threadleaf Coreopsis verticillata        
Herbaceous Perennials daisy, Shasta Leucanthemum x superbum        
Herbaceous Perennials dandelion Taraxacum officinale      
Herbaceous Perennials desert lavender Hyptis emoryi    
Herbaceous Perennials dill Anethum graveolens        
Herbaceous Perennials evening primrose, white-tufted Oenothera caespitosa        
Herbaceous Perennials four o’clock Mirabilis multiflora        
Herbaceous Perennials foxglove Digitalis spp.        
Herbaceous Perennials gilia, scarlet Ipomposis aggregata        
Herbaceous Perennials goldenrod Solidago spp.    
Herbaceous Perennials hyssop, anise or blue giant Agastache foeniculum    
Herbaceous Perennials Indian paintbrush, narrowleaf Castilleja linariifolia        
Herbaceous Perennials larkspur Delphinium spp.      
Herbaceous Perennials lemon balm Melissa officinalis        
Herbaceous Perennials lily, tiger Lilium lancifolium        
Herbaceous Perennials lupine Lupinus perennis        
Herbaceous Perennials marigold, French Tagetes patula        
Herbaceous Perennials milkweed Asclepias spp.        
Herbaceous Perennials mint Mentha spp.      
Herbaceous Perennials parsley Petroselinum crispum        
Herbaceous Perennials penstemon, firecracker Penstemon eatonii
Herbaceous Perennials phlox, garden Phlox paniculata      
Herbaceous Perennials prairie clover, western Dalea ornata      
Herbaceous Perennials rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis      
Herbaceous Perennials sage Salvia officinalis      
Herbaceous Perennials speedwell Veronica spp.        
Herbaceous Perennials sunflower Helianthus annuus        
Herbaceous Perennials sweet William Dianthus barbatus      
Herbaceous Perennials thistle, New Mexico Cirsium neomexicanum      
Herbaceous Perennials thyme Thymus praecox        
Herbaceous Perennials trumpet, hummingbird Epilobium canum      
Herbaceous Perennials valerian, red Centranthus ruber      
Herbaceous Perennials yarrow, common Achillea millefolium    
Herbaceous Perennials yucca, red Hesperaloe parviflora      
Herbaceous Perennials zinnia, narrowleaf Zinnia angustifolia        
Shrubs acacia, catclaw Acacia greggii  
Shrubs Apache plume Fallugia paradoxa      
Shrubs bitterbrush Purshia tridentata    
Shrubs buffaloberry, roundleaf Sheperdia rotundifolia      
Shrubs buffaloberry, silver Sheperdia argentea        
Shrubs butterflybush, woolly Buddleia marrubiifolia    
Shrubs chokecherry Prunus virginiana    
Shrubs cinquefoil, shrubby Potentilla fruticosa      
Shrubs cliffrose Purshia mexicana        
Shrubs creosotebush Larrea tridentata    
Shrubs currant, golden Ribes aureum
Shrubs dalea, Gregg Dalea greggii      
Shrubs dogwood, redosier Cornus sericea      
Shrubs elderberry, blue Sambucus caerulea    
Shrubs fernbush Chamaebatiaria millefolium      
Shrubs greasewood Sarcobatus vermiculatus        
Shrubs honeysuckle, Utah Lonicera utahensis      
Shrubs indigo bush Amorpha fruticosa      
Shrubs lilac Syringa vulgaris        
Shrubs mesquite, western honey Prosopis glandulosa        
Shrubs mockorange Philadelphus lewisii    
Shrubs Mormon tea Ephedra viridis      
Shrubs mountain-mahogany, alderleaf Cercocarpus montanus    
Shrubs oak, shrub live Quercus turbinella      
Shrubs rabbitbrush, yellow Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus    
Shrubs rose, Woods’ Rosa woodsii    
Shrubs sage, fringed Artemisia frigida    
Shrubs sage, purple Poliomintha incana      
Shrubs sage, sand Artemisia filifolia    
Shrubs sagebrush, big Artemisia tridentata      
Shrubs sagebrush, silver Artemisia cana      
Shrubs saltbush, four-wing Atriplex canescens      
Shrubs sand cherry, western Prunus besseyi      
Shrubs serviceberry, Utah Amelanchier utahensis      
Shrubs skunkbush Rhus trilobata      
Shrubs snowberry, common Symphoricarpos albus      
Shrubs stretchberry Forestiera pubescens var. pubescens  
Shrubs sumac Rhus spp.    
Shrubs viburnum Viburnum spp.      
Shrubs willow Salix spp.      
Shrubs willow, sandbar Salix interior      
Shrubs winterfat Krascheninnikovia lanata      
Shrubs yucca, soap tree Yucca elata      
Trees alder Alnus spp.        
Trees alder, gray Alnus incana      
Trees alder, thinleaf Alnus tenuifolia    
Trees ash, singleleaf Fraxinus anomala      
Trees birch, water Betula occidentalis    
Trees catalpa, southern Catalpa bignoniodes        
Trees cottonwood, Fremont Populus fremontii      
Trees cottonwood, narrowleaf Populus angustifolia      
Trees desert-willow Chilopsis linearis  
Trees Douglas-fir Pseudotsuga menziesii      
Trees fir, subalpine Abies lasiocarpa      
Trees hawthorn, Douglas Crataegus douglasii    
Trees horsechestnut Aesculus hippocastanum      
Trees juniper, Utah Juniperus osteosperma      
Trees locust, black Robinia pseudoacacia    
Trees locust, New Mexico Robinia neomexicana
Trees maple, bigtooth Acer grandidentatum      
Trees mountain-mahogany, curlleaf Cercocarpus ledifolius      
Trees mountainash, Greene Sorbus scopulina        
Trees mesquite, velvet Prosopis velutina    
Trees oak, gambel Quercus gambelii    
Trees pine, pinyon Pinus edulis      
Trees pinyon, singleleaf Pinus monophylla  
Trees spruce Picea spp.      
Vines grape, Arizona Vitis arizonica      
Vines honeysuckle, twinberry Lonicera involucrata  
Vines trumpet creeper Campsis radicans      

Photo Credits by Appearance in Article

  1. Flickr user “Dendroica cerulea”
  2. Flickr user “Nieve44/Luz"
  3. Flickr user “DieselDemon”
  4. Flickr user “Alexcion”

Photos are licensed under the Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution License


Many resources are available for people interested in designing and maintaining landscapes for wildlife. These include:

Published December 2013.