What is a Healthy Yard?

A healthy yard is not really a “yard” at all. It's a habitat, a sanctuary for wildlife, for you and your family. A healthy habitat provides a natural refuge beneficial to birds, other creatures, and people; it is an extension of your home and part of a larger ecological region. It can be beautiful, a source of peacefulness, and the center of wondrous enjoyment.


A healthy backyard can have different emphases:

Monarch butterfly          garden path

Attracting fluttering butterflies


Delicious Fresh Vegetables


Margaret Backyard           wildflowers and grasses

Beautiful flowers


Native wildflowers and grasses


            flowing pond
Creating a home for birds  And a cool pool!



An example of a healthy backyard

   After 1

   After 2

Before After


The above example is the backyard of a residence in Winnetka. The yard is 50'x50' that includes an 8'x10' patio, and is surrounded by other residences on all three sides. The diversity of the four seasons dramatically changes the scenery and character of the yard. Initially, this yard was developed simply for esthetic reasons, to look out from the kitchen and den windows and see the wonders and idiosyncrasies of nature. But over the years it has also served the purpose of expanding one’s appreciation of nature, of seeing relationships in the natural world, of sitting quietly on the patio and watching the chipmunks scoot by your feet, or the humming bird edging its beak into the opening of a trumpet vine.

What's needed in a healthy backyard – especially one that attracts birds


  • Food for Birds

    Most backyard birds are insect eaters and the insects love plants, bushes, and tree leaves. So, plant a lot of foliage, and in a combination that supplies food year-round.   Of course, birds also love nuts, seeds, fruit, or nectar, depending on the species. 

    Baltimore Orioles                                                               The way you maintain your yard can supply additional food sources. For instance, leaves raked into your garden bed and under shrubs can provide foraging areas for ground-feeding birds such as sparrows, robins, and mourning doves. Feeders can be a supplemental source of feeding that are particularly inviting in harsh winters. A variety of bird feeders suited to the eating habits of different species will attract the greatest number of species.  For instance, some birds feed on the ground, others like perching; some prefer sunflower seeds, other millet, thistle, suet, or nectar.
  • Birds Need Water

    Birds need water for drinking and for bathing.  Bird baths are a simple, popular way to provide water, with endless designs available at garden centers and wild bird supply stores.  Birds are attracted to the sound of running water and a spewing, drip, or misting feature will increase the number of visitors.  Water heaters will keep the water free from ice during the winter months.

    The creation of ponds and water gardens will take some work, but done well, they can attract many species.  Ponds for birds should be shallow, with gently sloping shorelines.

    Cooper's Hawk at Water           Crow at Water
    Cooper's Hawk before the hunt A thirsty crow


  • Birds Need Shelter
    Birds need placeswhere they can hide from predators and inclement weather.  Native trees and shrubs of different densities and heights give birds places of retreat and safety.  In winter, evergreens, hedgerows, and dense thickets offer critical cover.  Place feeding stations close enough to vegetation so that birds can make a quick escape but far enough to allow for a wide visual field for watching possible threats.           Bunting


  1. Bringing Home Nature.  Douglas Tallamy. 2007.

    A down to earth description of the relationship between plants, insects, and birds in the context of a healthy local ecosystem.

  2. Backyard Bird Secrets for Every Season. Sally Roth, 2009.

    Just as the title implies, how to attract birds for each of the four seasons. Also information about nesting and the feeding of birds.

  3. Bird-by-Bird Gardening.  Sally Roth, 2006.

    How to create a habitable layout of wild flowers, shrubs, and trees that will attract birds.

  4. Tree & Shrub Gardening for Illinois. William Aldrich and Don Williamson, 2004.

    Selection, planting, and maintenance of trees and shrubs with 560 photos and illustrations.

  5. Gardening With Kids.  Catherine Woram, 2008.

    “Every garden, no matter how small, has the potential to be a fantastic playground.” In addition to this inspiring line, the book deals with safety issues, playing, and growing (vegetables, fruit, and flowers).

  6. Brooklyn Botanic Garden – The Wildlife Gardener's Guide, 2008.

    Don't be fooled by the word, “Brooklyn.”. It's a how-to guide to attract butterflies and birds (including hummingbirds). It also lists native plants by region.

  7. Month-by-Month Gardening in Illinois. James A. Fizzell, 1999.

    A good description of planting techniques, pruning, and general horticultural practices.

  8. The Complete Compost Gardening Guide.  Barbara Pleasant and Debra L. Martin, 2008.

    A how-to and why-to manual about starting and maintaining a compost pile.

  9. Midwest Home Landscaping.  Roger Holmes and Rita Buchanan, 2006 Designing and installing your landscape; also plant profiles with 475 color photos and illustrations.