Certified Backyard Habitat Program

Your backyard is your sanctuary - and we can help you to make it a beneficial location for birds, insects, butterflies, and animals. When you landscape with native plants, you attract native species to your yard, patio or balcony.

Through a series of simple actions, your yard or patio can serve as a mini nature reserve that will provide important habitat and food sources for birds, pollinators, and wildlife. It’s critically important that we take collective action to protect and improve the environment. Just how critical is it? Bird populations have declined over 40% since the 1960s. Climate change is threatening at least 314 species of birds in the US -- nearly half of the birds in our country! The Monarch Butterfly population is at its lowest since scientists began tracking in the 1970s.

You can help make a difference for wildlife in your backyard. Your property represents an opportunity to make a difference for the health of our natural landscape. Join the movement to help birds, pollinators, and wildlife by creating a Certified Backyard Habitat.

Audubon's Certified Backyard Habitat Program

Please note that the program is currently open to residents of ASWP’s chapter territory, which includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties in southwestern Pennsylvania. 

The Backyard Habitat Certification Program will connect you with the resources that you need to make real change in your backyard. We will visit your yard twice during the process, create a custom plan for your property, and provide you with a variety of resources to help you along the way. Our Backyard Habitat programs are an Audubon at Home initiative.

May/June 2022: over 120 households are enrolled in the program for 2022. There is currently an approximate wait of 3 months from enrollment to assessment. Enroll now to secure your spot for 2022.

Free Certified Backyard Habitats with Pollinator Gardens Available for Residents of Garfield, Wilkinsburg, Glassport, and McKeesport – 

In partnership with the Wilkinsburg Pollinator Garden Group, Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, and Steel Rivers Council of Governments, ASWP is excited to offer free Certified Backyard Habitats with pollinator gardens for residents of Wilkinsburg, Garfield, Glassport, and McKeesport. The Wilkinsburg slots have already been filled; residents of Wilkinsburg can express interest and be added to the waitlist at www.sustainablewilkinsburg.org. McKeesport and Glassport slots have also been filled; Mon Valley residents can express interest and be added to the waitlist at www.steelriverscog.org. Registrations for Garfield residents are now open – visit www.bloomfield-garfield.org to enroll.

Financial and other support for the Community Conservation Through Backyard Habitat project has been provided by the Department of Environmental Protection's 2020 Environmental Education Program.

How the program works

Step 1: Enroll in the program.

Step 2: The site visit. ASWP will visit your property to conduct a site assessment. During this time, the ASWP staff will talk with you about your goals for the property, determine site conditions, and determine where your yard stands in the program requirements.

Step 3: ASWP will send you a customized report which will include plant recommendations for your site conditions and ways in which you can meet your desired level of habitat certification.

Step 4: Plant your habitat: This is the part of the process where you plant your native plants and do fun things like install a bird bath.

Step 5: Get Certified! Once you’ve completed your plan, contact ASWP to let us know that you’re ready to get certified. We will visit your yard once again to verify that the program requirements have been met. We’ll then give you a beautiful Certified Backyard Habitat sign and a Field Guide to Common Species of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Certification criteria

The Backyard Habitat Certification Program has three levels:

  • Habitat Guardian (Silver)
  • ​Habitat Champion (Gold)
  • Habitat Hero (Platinum)

Each level is centered around five focus areas: Native Plants, Natural Products, Wildlife Stewardship, Clean Water, and Homeowner Engagement. Click [here] for a downloadable file that lists certification requirements.

Program focus areas

A Certified Backyard Habitat must include each of the following 5 focus areas: Native Plants, Natural Products, Wildlife Stewardship, Clean Water, and Homeowner Engagement.

Native Plants

The first Certified Backyard Habitat focus area focuses on native plants and habitat layers. Native plants are the foundation of healthy habitat, providing important roosting and nesting spots for birds, and food from nuts and seeds to fruit, nectar, and insects. Habitat layers, also called vertical structure, provides places for birds to hide from predators, locations to nest and sources of nesting material, and helps to ensure food sources are available throughout the seasons. Click [here] for details about the requirements for the Native Plant focus area of the program.

Natural Products

The second focus area for creating a Certified Backyard Habitat is reducing or eliminating chemical use. The use of synthetic chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers has been proven to significantly damage ecosystems. Some problems associated with the use of chemicals include a reduction of natural food for birds, polluted streams, damage to pollinator populations, and impacts to human health. There are many organic gardening solutions that protect the integrity of our environment and help ensure that your garden thrives. For details about the requirements for the Natural Products focus area of the program, click [here] to view certification criteria.

Wildlife Stewardship

The third focus area for creating a Certified Backyard Habitat is to provide extra levels of Wildlife Stewardship. Birds, pollinators, and wildlife are faced with surviving in an increasingly challenging landscape. Some threats to birds include habitat loss, predation from outdoor cats, window strikes, and climate change. By taking extra steps to make your backyard even more hospitable for birds and pollinators, you can help ensure their success. Click [here] for details about the requirements for the Wildlife Stewardship focus area of the program.

Clean Water

Clean water practices support healthy habitat and healthy rivers and streams. Many birds rely on clean streams for food and nesting habitat. Many other creatures such as frogs, dragonflies, beavers, and trout rely on clean streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes to survive. And most Pennsylvanians rely on streams and rivers for drinking water. It is important that each of us do our part to help protect our streams and rivers -- your backyard is a perfect place to get started! Click [here] for details about the requirements of the Clean Water focus area of the program.

Homeowner engagement

Once you get started on your backyard habitat, we’re sure that you will want to learn more and share your passion and excitement with friends and neighbors. You may take native plant classes, participate in a Citizen Science program, recruit neighbors for to create a Backyard Habitat, or showcase your new Backyard Habitat. There are many ways to fulfill the Education and Engagement program requirements. Click [here] to learn more about the Backyard Habitat Certification Criteria.

Get started!

The program is currently open to residents of ASWP’s chapter territory, which includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties.

After you enroll, ASWP will provide resources and offers a variety of programs that can help you get started on your Backyard Habitat before we conduct your assessment.

You should receive a welcome packet of resources within 3 weeks of enrollment. Next, we will contact you in the order of enrollment to set up an assessment appointment. Keep an eye on our calendar for habitat gardening workshops and Community Science opportunities – these will enrich your knowledge and count towards your Certified Backyard Habitat requirements.

Assessments are scheduled in the order of enrollment. 

Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania members may enroll in the program for a discounted rate of $60.

If you're not a member of Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, please enroll in the program at the rate of $90. This program fee comes with a complimentary 1 year household membership.

You can receive the discounted rate and discounts in our nature store and on other programs by becoming a member!