After a long winter, the return of spring is most welcomed. The grass is green, and the trees and shrubs are sprouting leaves and colorful blooms. Most of the vibrant summer birds have returned, much to our delight.

If you enjoy wildlife in your garden or yard, why not have your property recognized by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

I certified my back yard a few years ago and during the procedure learned some new ideas for future wildlife landscaping and feeder projects. The certification process is easy and costs only $20, which includes a full year's membership to the National Wildlife Federation and a one-year subscription to National Wildlife magazine.

To be eligible as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, a yard must furnish wildlife with various habitat requirements. Specifically, a yard must provide one or more necessary elements from each of three wildlife habitat categories: food, water, and cover and places to raise young.

The food category breaks down into two subcategories ­— plant foods, such as fruit and nuts, and animal-feeder types. The plant food subcategory lists eight sources of food providing wildlife with seeds, nuts, berries, fruits, nectar, sap, twigs and pollen.

I satisfied this requirement since my yard is landscaped with various plants that provide all of the above food sources. I planted green ash trees to provide seeds, red oak trees to supply nuts, Juneberry, chokecherry and elderberry for their berries, and crabapple, plum, mountain ash for their fruit.

The second food subcategory — feeder types — lists five styles of feeders including seed, suet, hummingbird, squirrel and butterfly. I have at least one of each style of feeders in my yard.

Water is the second essential wildlife habitat element. Wildlife needs water for drinking, of course, but also for bathing. There are several subcategories from which to choose.

I fulfilled the water requirement by having a pond excavated in my rural back yard, but a simple birdbath also meets the requirement.

The third essential element is cover and places to raise young. A back yard should provide nesting sites, shelter from bad weather and places to hide from predators. The National Wildlife Federation lists 14 ways to fulfill this category, but a certified property must meet only three.

I met at least three requirements by planting several white spruce trees and hedges of red-osier dogwood, highbush cranberry and other shrubs. As a result, I'm currently able to verify 15 species of birds nesting within 30 yards of my home.

To obtain an application to have your property recognized by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, call 1-800-822-9919 or apply online at

Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.