Backyard Habitat, Providing Community for Birds and Wildlife

Certified Backyard Habitat. Click to enlarge

The Backyard Habitat Certification Program

By Neta Courcey
Certified Backyard Habitat
Wilkes East Resident

Like neighborhoods are to cities, cities to counties, and counties to states, backyard habitats connect our yards to greenways and to wilderness, providing the essential pathways of interconnectedness that nourish the larger community. Communities of humans thrive when they are connected to each other and to the larger community. Just as neighborhood groups like Wilkes East are essential to building and maintaining the larger community, backyard habitats are essential to the community of birds and other wildlife. The swath of habitat that neighbors create is vital, providing refuge areas containing food, water, nesting places and shelter. I am proud to have my little yard be a piece of the bigger network that creates a web of natural habitats throughout the Portland metropolitan area and the Pacific Northwest.

Looking back I realize that I started down this path many years ago when noticing yards with the Backyard habitat certification program signs. The yards with these signs were often the ones I was trying to emulate in my own yard. While I am a confident plant lover, and have researched and planted many native species, when I finally called about the certification program a whole new world of native plants and their usefulness in the urban garden opened to me. I gained a new understanding of the impact invasive species have on the native plants that birds and wildlife depend on for food and nesting. Soon, I found myself furiously pulling Lesser Celadine and English Ivy! With the help of clear instructions and colorful posters provided by the program, I identified and eliminated the worst offenders, and I still work on keeping at bay some of the lesser offenders.

I had been using some favorite natives in gardens over the years but when I was introduced to the Portland Plant List ( I was in love. Native to Oregon does not always mean native to our specific area and our specific birds and creatures. Now I had a reference to take with me to plant nurseries so that when I invest in a plant for my garden, it also benefits my favorite creatures. The Portland Plant list is only one of the many resources I received to help me in my journey toward certification. Coupons for native plant nurseries and educational posters and materials are still useful to me as I expand my natives and organize my garden around wildlife.

It is easy to be overwhelmed when walking through a garden center like Portland Nursery or Tony's or even Home Depot. One of the most helpful things about the backyard certification program is the organizing principle that it provides. I know the questions to ask myself when deciding on a plant. Your questions may be different than mine, but mine go something like this: Do I like it? Does it fit with the overall effect I am creating in that area of my yard? Does it feed me or the birds or my eyes? Will it get too tall? How much does it spread? Can it be fairly easily maintained? Is it a native? If not can I find a native that fits most of these criteria? I have the resources now to answer these questions and make my yard "my home."

Once you apply for Backyard Certification, a Backyard Habitat Technician will contact you to set up a site assessment. The Technician will assess the state of your entire yard – not just the backyard. They will identify invasive weeds, listen to your goals and desires for the space, and help make recommendations that are right for you. Following the visit, you’ll receive a Site Report full of plant recommendations and recapping your steps toward certification.

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I wanted to support the birds and other wildlife, but I also like to feed myself, cut flowers for the house, and decorate my yard with old favorites. The thoughtful combination of native plants, trees and shrubs and traditional garden plants has made my yard an ongoing expression of my respect for the natural world and my love of the plants and birds of my native Oregon. The partnership of the Columbia Land Trust and Portland Audubon Society along with many other supportive native plant groups and vendors make this amazing program possible. This article cites numerous references from Columbia Land Trust materials.

For more information, or to become a part of the web of bird and wildlife support, contact