Landscaping for Wildlife

Backyard scene with birds, native plants, and feeders.A backyard oasis for wildlife uses native plants and other features like water or feeders to provide the things wildlife need from their habitats. Click here to learn more about this backyard scene or download our article on Attracting Birds to your Yard.


Attracting wildlife to the backyard is easy by providing what they need: Habitat. Habitat is made up of four factors: 1) food, 2) water, 3) shelter, and 4) space. Each factor is essential for a good habitat and varies somewhat by the species of wildlife and the season. To ensure the greatest variety of wildlife species, provide a yard with the largest variety of food, shelter, and cover by providing different types of plants, feeders, and houses.

Photo of a catbird in an elderberry. © Karl JungbluthNatural sources of food can be things such as nectar-bearing flowers, seeds, fruits, berries, and insects. Planting a variety of herbaceous plants, shrubs, and trees provides a variety of species and a variety of structure. This ensures a wide variety of insects and other food sources.

For pulling wildlife in close for observation, you may want to provide supplemental feeding, especially in the winter months. Different types of feeders at different levels and locations, stocked with different types of foods (sugar water and insect larvae in the summer, for example) attract the widest variety of species. Check out our Feeding Wildlife page for more information on attracting wildlife with feeders.  

All animals need shelter for cover, roosting, and raising you. Some species need more specialized cover than others. Plant trees and bushes for nesting birds, and add evergreen trees for protection against winter storms and winds. Standing dead and downed logs are important for over 50 species of Iowa wildlife. If they are not available on your property, you can provide constructed housing for many species. Check the designs available in this PDF file called Shelves, houses, and feeders for birds and mammals.

A source of water is essential for birds year round. Other animals are often attracted to it as well. Options range from a simple plastic bird bath to a rubber-lined backyard pond, complete with a recirculating pump to provide moving water. During the winter, a bird bath with a heater will keep the water from freezing and attract some birds that will not normally visit your feeders.

Photo of a backyard pond.


More Resources from ISU Extension and Outreach

  • Attracting Birds to Your Yard - An article from wildlife extension specialists at Iowa State with more details on attracting birds to your yard. 
  • Gardening for Butterflies and Pollinators - A detailed article from extension entomologists at Iowa State about simple steps to help pollinators like butterflies and bees in your landscaping and gardens.   
  • Introduction to Iowa Native Prairie Plants - Learn about native plants from Iowa's prairies, many of which make for beautiful landscape plants to attract birds, insects, and other wildlife to your backyard. 
  • References and Resources for Prairies and Native Plantings - This general article from Iowa State Extension and Outreach provides lots of details about Iowa's native prairie plants that are great for wildlife in landscaping or in larger prairie plantings.  
  • Prairies and Native Plantings as Outdoor Classrooms - Maybe you don't want to welcome local school groups to your backyard, but you can find many relevant resources in this guide about promoting native prairie plants in small patches or in landscaping around your house.
  • Rain Gardens: Filtering and Recycling Rain Water - Rain gardens are good for the environment and, when planted with the right native plants, can be great for wildlife too.  Find out more information and resources on building your own rain garden in this publication. 

Additional Resources

  • Visit the Garden for Wildlife page from the National Wildlife Federation, a wonderful resource with detailed information about making your yard and garden more hospitable for wildlife.
  • Landscape Plants and Attract Birds - An article from Wisconsin that has a nice table of plants that provide habitat for wildlife throughout the year.