How to create a refuge for wildlife in your backyard

Florida wildlife officials introduce new Backyards and Beyond campaign


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – By offering food, water, cover and space for native species to raise their young, you can transform your yard into a welcoming habitat for wildlife, Florida wildlife officials say.

On Thursday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Backyards and Beyond, a statewide campaign challenging Floridians to make a difference and have fun by creating a refuge for wildlife in their own backyard.

“Imagine your backyard as a place where butterflies are attracted by flowers, songbirds are gobbling up seeds and berries, and frogs, bats and lizards are eating mosquitoes and other insects,” said Jerrie Lindsey, FWC’s director of Public Access Services. “Your efforts to create wildlife habitat at home will have a positive impact because animals need places to live beyond our wildlife management areas. Backyards and Beyond is also a great opportunity for you and your family to enjoy watching wildlife.” 

The FWC offers five easy ways to become involved in Backyards and Beyond:

1. Add native plants. A variety of native trees, shrubs and plants will provide natural food and cover for wildlife. A flowering native plant or shrub, for example, can provide nectar and pollen for butterflies and other beneficial insects, which in turn may be a meal for birds, lizards and frogs.

2. Provide the four basics: food, water, cover and enough space for raising young. You'll increase the number and variety of species that visit your yard, which will allow you to observe them more closely.

3. Document wildlife activity in your backyard. Submit photos via iNaturalist to Florida Nature Trackers projects, and even create a species list for your own backyard.

4. Create a butterfly garden, build a nest box for birds or add a brush pile for small animals such as earthworms, birds, toads and lizards in your backyard. Planting a Refuge for Wildlife is an easy-to-understand guide to these projects and other ways that your backyard can support native wildlife. The illustrated publication, created by the FWC and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, can be ordered online at WildlifeFlorida.org.

5. Go beyond your backyard. Invite family and friends to explore outdoors at wildlife management areas, local and state parks, state and national forests, and national wildlife refuges. You can use Florida Nature Trackers to document what you see. 

According to the FWC, people who create a wildlife refuge in their backyards will contribute to conserving Florida’s wildlife and habitats, and generate valuable information by documenting animals in their backyards. FWC biologists will be able to see the wildlife photos submitted to Florida Nature Trackers and use the data to help with their research.

The FWC reminds people that wild animals do not need supplemental feeding from humans. Wildlife officials say naturally occurring insects and native plants with nectar flowers, edible fruits, nuts and seeds provide nourishment for most butterflies, birds and small animals. But, wildlife officials say, pet food, corn and other supplemental feed can encourage unwanted visitors. 

If you live in an apartment or condo and don't have a backyard, don't worry. You can still take part by planting native flowers in containers on your front steps, on a balcony or in a window box. You can work with neighbors to add native plant life to spaces such as playground and parks.You can also get children involved by introducing them to Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, youth groups, churches, schools and other community groups. 

If you need help getting started, you can find more information on the Backyards and Beyond website.

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