Skip to main content

Building a backyard habitat exhibit

Posted by: R. Scott Vance, Exhibit Interpreter

When the Chilean flamingo exhibit was constructed in 2007, one of our older non-animal exhibits had to go: the Our Backyard exhibit that focused on planting and caring for native, wildlife-friendly shrubs, trees and flowers. But we knew this wouldn’t be forever.

We have just begun the new iteration of Our Backyard, re-purposing the small orchard in our Family Farm. Despite the new location, the focus remains to demonstrate ways to bring wildlife closer to home. We’ll share seasonal programs that show people how to offer food, water, shelter and a place to raise young for our native wildlife. We’ll also show visitors ways to help mitigate the detrimental effects of modern lifestyles ― from toxic chemicals and pesticides (Just say no!), to keeping our pets from preying on wildlife.

A new path will wander through a special corner of the zoo toxic free and will include drought-resistant native plants, drinking water sources, food and shelter to encourage wildlife such as bees, birds, bats and butterflies, as well as soil- building bugs. (We’ll also encourage some animals that don’t start with the letter “B”!). The trail will serve as a seasonal program area and a year-round interpretive path.

The signage will echo the tenets of our popular Backyard Habitat workshops:

1) Wildlife needs water and protection from pets.
2) Keeping pollution out of our water with rain gardens and porous paving
3) Pollinator Plants: Pretty and Productive!
4) We all need shelter: Wildlife shelters are easy!
5) Gaining Ground! The critters in the litter, building soil
6) A healthy backyard: Green gardeners - eliminating toxics

Many plants along the path will have tags or signs so visitors can find the same plants for their own yards.

The entry to Our Backyard will feature a garden shed, which will serve as a gathering space for programs. Run-off water from the shed will pour off into a demonstration rain garden built by local Boy Scouts, while the bulletin board on the shed informs visitors of upcoming workshops and programs. The shed will also be a convenient place to share bird lists, wildlife-watch info and other information such as how to obtain official Backyard Habitat certification for your own yard.
In a brand-new partnership, Woodland Park Zoo’s horticulture team has been working with volunteers from a local Boy Scout troop to construct Our Backyard’s secret rain garden and pathway. Hidden from view for years we’ve eked out a way through the quiet little forested area used by bushtits, sparrows and barred owls. A couple of benches and a small footbridge make it welcoming to everyone. We’re pleased to have partnered with these young people on their service learning project, and we are especially excited about this exhibit because it will help us inspire our visitors to take real, measurable action to help wildlife and habitats.


Anonymous said…
Have you looked into highlighting 'no mow' lawns such as 'Fleur de Lawn' as a way of cutting down on pollution and disturbance while still providing a usable lawn?
We'll certainly pass this along to those designing this area! We've largely gone chemical-free throughout the zoo's horticultural treasures, using natural compost teas and other ways to mitigate the use of chemicals. Always a work in progress!