Welcoming Travelers and Wildlife

Created 38 years ago, NWF’s Certified Wildlife Habitat® program now includes several inns and other public facilities that offer visitors exceptional opportunities to see native species

  • Doreen Cubie
  • Jan 19, 2011
IN A LENGTHY 1973 National Wildlife article, a team of experts described the steps homeowners could take to create wildlife-friendly landscapes on their property. “It was the first time that researchers had ever applied the basics of wildlife management—food, cover and water—to a suburban backyard, and it worked!” recalls George H. Harrison, the magazine’s managing editor at the time. The feature served as the basis for NWF’s ground-breaking Certified Wildlife Habitat™ program, which has since recognized nearly 140,000 habitats not only in backyards but at schools, parks, government offices and businesses. Together, these certified gardens represent more than 70,000 acres of secure havens for native species. And as the following locations demonstrate, several of them also are unique destinations for travelers.

In a remote corner of northern Peru, the proprietors of the Choctamal Marvelous Spatuletail Lodge have planted a profusion of “mupa-mupa” trees in their NWF-certified habitat. The brilliant yellow flowers of these native plants beckon hummingbirds, including the marvelous spatuletail, which is named for the male’s outlandish tail feathers. “They are the most spectacular birds,” says Charles Motley, Jr., the founder of Los Tambos Chachapoyas, the nonprofit organization that built the lodge. “There are only between 250 and 1,000 of them left in the world,” he adds, but there is a chance of seeing one if you visit. Other hummingbird species that range on the grounds include the sword-billed hummingbird, which has a bill as long as its body, and the rainbow starfrontlet, a glittering combination of emerald, rufous and gold. “We’re working with local villagers to propagate and plant more flowers to provide more habitat for all of them,” says Motley.

Closer to home, you may not see any exotic hummingbirds if you stay at Stonehurst Place in midtown Atlanta, but the certified habitat of this bed-and-breakfast inn is a great place to relax and watch the parade of songbirds and butterflies that visit the property’s gardens. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 1896 mansion received a “green” renovation three years ago, and it now has solar panels, a rainwater harvesting system and graywater recycling.

These two locations are among more than 1,000 businesses that have earned NWF certification in recent years, including amusement parks, spas, funeral homes and at least one old-fashioned ice cream stand: Frosty’s Frozen Custard in Whitewater, Wisconsin. Travelers who visit these destinations can experience species they may never see at home. At the Oasis at Way Out West in Tucson, Arizona, for example, roadrunners (below, right) and other desert wildlife are common sights, while at the Caledonia Bed and Breakfast in Seal Rock, Oregon, the temperate coastal rain forest offers unlimited wildlife-viewing opportunities.

“For me, one of the best reasons to travel is being able to see species that are new to me,” says Roxanne Paul, NWF’s senior coordinator of community and volunteer outreach. “If you’re interested in plants, staying at a place with a certified habitat gives you a chance to see some of the flowers and trees that are native to that part of the country. Not only will you see what is unique to the area, it will give you a better sense of place.”

Consider the Cat’s Cradle Bed and Breakfast in the town of Arcata on California’s northern coast. It is situated on a sloping one-acre certified habitat that “gets pretty wild in the back,” says Barbara Holver, who owns the B&B with her husband, Duane. She says Steller’s jays come to the feeders and Anna’s hummingbirds frequent the salvia and other flowers. Not far away is Rockefeller Forest, part of a state park that has some of the tallest and oldest redwood trees in the world.

On the opposite side of the country, George and Rhoda Kriz run the Long Hill Bed and Breakfast in the Shenandoah Valley on the outskirts of Winchester, Virginia. On their 19 acres, they’ve seen wildlife ranging from gray foxes to rose-breasted grosbeaks. One of the first things they did after they opened for business in 2000 was to put in a bird and butterfly garden near the house. They also placed feeders outside several of the windows. “We enjoy seeing the birds and other wildlife on our property,” says George Kriz, “and we thought our guests would too.”

In addition to meeting like-minded innkeepers and guests, another reason to visit certified habitats is to learn about new plants and new ways to attract wildlife to your own patch of ground. One of the best places to do that is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of the University of Texas at Austin (above, right), where several of the gardens are NWF-certified. One is the Wetland Pond, home to Texas aquatic plants and animals. Another is the Ann and O.J. Weber Butterfly Garden, which contains more than 350 native butterfly and bee plants arranged by their preferred habitat. Before you visit the center, you can download an audio tour podcast or get a transcript of the tour.

To see pollinator plants in another section of the country, visit the United States Botanic Garden’s National Garden (left) in Washington, D.C. This living plant museum, located on the National Mall, became NWF’s 100,000th certified habitat in 2008. In its Butterfly Garden, you can learn how to attract pollinators and see a selection of nectar and host plants that are native east of the Mississippi River. In the facility’s Regional Garden grow dozens of trees, shrubs and wildflowers found in the Mid-Atlantic states. A walk through these gardens may spark ideas about different plants to cultivate at home.

If you are looking for a place that combines education with just plain fun, both for adults and kids, visit one of the nation’s nature centers that include certified habitats. The Reedy Creek Nature Center and Preserve, just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, for instance, maintains butterfly gardens, a demonstration compost area and ten miles of hiking trails. Zoos recognized by NWF include Florida’s Naples Zoo, the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, New York, and the Happy Hollow Park and Zoo in San Jose, California.

If peace and quiet is what you’re looking for, there are certified habitats for that too. One is the Briar Rose Bed and Breakfast in downtown Boulder, Colorado. This inn, run by Jessika Kimes and Gary Hardin, a Zen monk, has a meditation room. Depending on the season, you can also relax by the fireplace or in the native plant gardens, coming away refreshed and ready to go home and tackle your own backyard habitat.

Journalist Doreen Cubie’s certified habitat in South Carolina has a bird list of 142 species, including swallow-tailed kites, clapper rails and painted buntings.


Garden for Wildlife: NWF’s Certified Wildlife Habitat Program
“Habitat Chat with George H. Harrison”
“Homegrown Biodiversity”
“The Backyard Revolution”

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