Wildlife Friendly Water Features

May 24 2023 – Kelly LaVaute, Staff Member

How to Use Water Features to Attract Wildlife

Adding water features to your outdoor space improves your property’s aesthetics and provides essential water for birds, mammals, and other creatures. This in-depth article will guide you through creating a backyard water feature that attracts a variety of wildlife while fitting the unique characteristics of your outdoor setting. 

From small backyard water features for modest gardens to large water features for expansive landscapes, we'll explore numerous water feature ideas to transform your garden into a haven for local wildlife.

If you have native plants, adding a water source for wildlife is the final step needed to apply for a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat®.

Understanding the role of water features in attracting wildlife

A backyard water feature is a vital resource for various species, making your garden a focal point for wildlife activity. From drinking to bathing to breeding, birds, mammals, amphibians and more can make use of backyard water sources

Insects are also drawn to water sources, contributing to the overall health of your garden's ecosystem. Providing a water feature for wildlife will create a welcoming environment for these creatures, fostering a rich and diverse habitat.

Types of water features to consider

Creating the perfect water feature for your backyard requires careful consideration of the available options. In this section, we'll explore various water features for backyards, from bird bath ponds and simple water features for backyard settings to larger, more elaborate installations.

Whether you have a small patio or a sprawling landscape, you'll discover the perfect water feature to attract birds, insects, and other wildlife to your outdoor space.


A natural or human-made pond can become a wildlife-friendly water feature by incorporating appropriate plantings and creating suitable habitats for various species. From smaller ponds to larger ponds that support fish and amphibians, these water features for backyards offer a range of options to suit your space and preferences.

Bird baths

A simple backyard water feature, bird baths provide drinking and bathing opportunities for birds. Bird baths come in various styles, materials, and sizes to match your garden's style and attract various bird species. Regular cleaning will keep your bird bath ready and healthy for birds.

Carved stone basins

A carved stone basin adds visual interest and provides a shallow basin for birds to drink and bathe. This water feature idea is perfect for small spaces and can be placed near a nearby seating area for easy viewing.

Garden fountains

Fountains serve as a focal point in your pollinator garden and offer the soothing sounds of running water. Choose from traditional tiered fountains, wall fountains, or modern designs to suit your garden's style.

  • Wall fountains: A wall fountain is a perfect water feature idea for small gardens, as it takes up minimal space while still providing the benefits of flowing water. Wall fountains come in many different types and materials, adding visual interest and a soothing sound to your outdoor space.
  • Bamboo fountains: A bamboo fountain is a unique and low-maintenance water feature idea.
  • Ceramic pot fountains: Ceramic pot fountains add visual interest and a lovely soothing sound to your garden. Place a ceramic pot fountain near a patio or seating area to create a relaxing atmosphere.


The mesmerizing sight and soothing sound of water cascading down rocks or over a ledge can transform any outdoor space into a tranquil oasis. Whether you're looking to create a naturalistic setting with a subtle trickle of water or a dramatic focal point with rushing water cascading over a series of rocks, you'll discover a wealth of ideas and inspiration to suit your specific needs and preferences.

Incorporating a waterfall into your garden adds visual interest and a relaxing atmosphere. It also encourages wildlife to visit your outdoor space, drawn by the cool water and the habitat it provides.

By carefully considering factors such as size, materials, and surrounding plants, you can create a breathtaking and functional waterfall that serves as a haven for local wildlife while enhancing the overall beauty of your garden. So, let's dive in and explore the possibilities that await with the enchanting world of waterfalls.

  • Small waterfalls: Create a natural water flow with a small waterfall, perfect for adding interest and the sound of falling water to your garden.
  • Pondless waterfalls: Consider a pondless waterfall for a low-maintenance water feature idea. With no standing water, pondless waterfalls require less upkeep while still providing the soothing sounds of running water.
  • Aquatic plants: Enhance your water feature with aquatic plants, which provide shelter and food for wildlife while adding visual interest and improving water quality.

Streams and creeks

A well-designed stream can mimic a natural water source, attracting diverse wildlife species. Creating a meandering, shallow stream or creek offers a refreshing water feature to attract hummingbirds and other wildlife while enhancing your garden's overall aesthetic.

Rain Gardens

Beautify your yard and neighborhood while helping the environment with a rain garden. Rain gardens are a unique landscaping practice used to filter and absorb rainwater that runs off roofs and driveways, allowing it to be slowly reintroduced into our water system. They help the environment by keeping pollution out of storm drains and instead filter it naturally through the soil. 

Planted with grasses and flowering perennials, rain gardens can be a cost effective and beautiful way to reduce runoff from your property. In addition to helping filter out pollutants in runoff, rain gardens with native plants can  provide food and shelter for butterflies, song birds and other wildlife.

Butterfly Puddling Station

One of the easiest ways to provide water AND attract wildlife is with a butterfly puddling station. Monarchs and other butterflies need moisture but cannot land on water to drink, so a typical garden pond, fountain or birdbath won’t help them. Instead, butterflies sip liquid from muddy soil. This behavior is known as “puddling.”

You can enhance your space by offering special butterfly water sources in addition to planting native blooming plants that provide nectar, milkweed plants for monarch caterpillars to eat and by not using pesticides.

Creating a butterfly puddling station is a great activity for kids, and doesn’t require much space. 

  1. Source a shallow dish or saucer
  2. Fill the dish with a mixture of gravel and small stones, sand and/or soil
  3. Add enough water to saturate the soil/sand but ensure that some elements rise above the water line for easy landing
  4. Leave near butterfly food plants
  5. Clean and top up regularly, especially in hotter weather 

Plant life around water features

Planting around a water feature is essential for creating a thriving ecosystem. Native plants offer numerous benefits, such as providing shelter and food for local wildlife. Find the best plants for your garden using our ZIP code native plant finder. Just type in your ZIP code, and you’ll find exactly what plants will thrive in your unique outdoor space. Then, organize plants in layers (ground cover, understory, and canopy) to create a diverse habitat that supports various species. 

Select native plants that attract specific types of wildlife, such as berry-producing shrubs for birds and nectar-rich flowers for pollinators. For example, monarchs depend on milkweed as caterpillars, and milkweed depends on pollinators to reproduce, so milkweed plants and monarch butterflies need each other

Incorporating plants suitable for water features for small gardens can also help you maximize your available space. Our rain garden native plant collection is a great example of plants that can thrive in wet soils.

Enhancing water features for wildlife

Once you've chosen your ideal water feature, optimizing it for attracting and supporting wildlife is essential. In this section, we'll cover the various ways to enhance your water feature, including creating shelter and hiding spots, encouraging natural food sources, and maintaining water quality. Following these guidelines will create a wildlife-friendly water feature that offers a safe, thriving habitat for diverse species.

Add plants

Plants provide shelter, food, and nesting sites for wildlife. Add plants around your water feature to create a thriving habitat for various species. Choose native plants, as they offer numerous benefits, such as providing shelter and food for local wildlife. If you’re not sure what plants are native to your state, use our state native plant finder.

Provide shelter and hiding spots

Include rocks, logs, and artificial shelters in and around your water feature to create a secure environment for visiting creatures. These elements provide protection and contribute to the natural appearance of your water feature.

Maintain water quality

Ensure proper aeration, circulation, and filtration to maintain water quality and prevent algae growth. A well-maintained water feature will look beautiful and provide a healthy habitat for wildlife. Bird baths require regular cleaning.

Creating your ideal backyard water feature

Designing the perfect water feature for your outdoor space can seem daunting, but with a little inspiration and guidance, you can create a stunning focal point that attracts wildlife and enhances your garden's aesthetic.

This section will explore various water feature ideas, such as water walls and water cascades, that will help you bring your vision to life. We'll also discuss selecting the right elements, materials, and designs to ensure your backyard water feature meets your needs while providing a welcoming habitat for local wildlife.

Transform your garden with the ideal water feature that seamlessly blends beauty, functionality, and nature.

Assess your outdoor space

Consider your garden's size, style, and existing features when selecting a water feature idea. Choose a water feature that complements your garden's overall aesthetic and fits within your available space.

Determine the desired effect

Consider the impact you want your water feature to have on your garden. Do you want a focal point, a soothing sound, or a wildlife-friendly water source? Your desired effect will help guide your choice of water feature.

Select the appropriate materials

Water features come in many different types, materials, and styles. Consider factors such as durability, maintenance, and appearance when selecting the materials for your water feature.

Incorporate wildlife-friendly elements

To attract fireflies, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife to your water feature, include elements such as shallow basins for drinking and bathing, rocks for perching, and plants for shelter and food.

In addition, hummingbirds in particular also need to bathe frequently and will be especially attracted to moving water such as bubblers, dripping fountains or misting devices.

Plan for maintenance

Some water features require more maintenance than others. Choose a water feature that aligns with your desired level of upkeep, and plan for regular cleaning and care to keep your water feature looking its best. If you don’t have time to maintain a large feature like a waterfall or pond, consider a bird bath with a mister to attract hummingbirds. Easier to clean!

Common challenges and solutions

While water features can be a wonderful addition to any garden, they may also present some challenges. By understanding these challenges and implementing effective solutions, you'll ensure your water feature remains an attractive and beneficial part of your backyard ecosystem.

Mosquito control

Prevent stagnant water and utilize biological control methods, such as introducing mosquito-eating fish to keep mosquito populations in check. Ensuring water movement in your water feature through fountains or waterfalls can also discourage mosquitoes from breeding. Regular cleaning is a must!

Protecting wildlife from predators

Create escape routes and deter domestic pets to keep your water feature wildlife-friendly. Design water features with shallow edges for easy access and exit, and use fencing or other barriers to keep predators at bay.

Balancing aesthetics and functionality

Strive for a balance between creating an attractive backyard water feature and fostering a thriving wildlife habitat. Consider simple water features for backyard settings that offer visual appeal while supporting diverse wildlife populations.

Location-specific water feature ideas

No matter where you live, incorporating a well-designed water feature into your landscape can significantly enhance your outdoor space and attract diverse wildlife. Get some inspiration on tailoring your water feature to your specific environment, considering space constraints, local wildlife, and available resources.

From small ponds and fountains in tight city spaces to expansive waterfall systems in rural settings, you'll discover unique and inspiring ideas for creating a thriving habitat garden that supports local ecosystems and adds visual interest, soothing sounds, and natural beauty to your garden.

Whether your home is in the heart of the city, the tranquility of suburbia, or the wide-open countryside, there's a water feature idea perfect for your location, lifestyle, and wildlife.

Urban wildlife oasis

Transform a small water feature in a city garden into a bustling wildlife haven. With careful plant selection and attention to habitat creation, even a small water feature can attract various birds, insects, and other creatures. The butterfly puddling station is a great solution for small spaces or native plant patio gardens.

Suburban backyard sanctuary

Create a large water feature for gardens in a suburban setting, attracting a diverse range of wildlife. By incorporating elements such as rain gardens, waterfalls, and bird baths, you can design a multi-faceted water source system as a focal point for a thriving ecosystem.

Rural pond restoration

Restore a natural pond to its former glory, encouraging native species to return and thrive. Through thoughtful planting and habitat enhancement, a once-neglected pond can become a wildlife-friendly water feature that benefits the surrounding environment.

Embracing water features and supporting wildlife

Incorporating a water feature for wildlife into your landscape benefits local ecosystems and provides endless hours of enjoyment as you observe the comings and goings of various species. Whether it's a simple bird bath or an elaborate pond, a water feature to attract birds and other wildlife can become an integral part of your outdoor living space. 

So, roll up your sleeves and start planning your wildlife-friendly water feature today. By following the guidelines and advice presented in this article, you'll be well on your way to creating a backyard sanctuary that supports and attracts an incredible range of wildlife.

Want to keep up to date on the latest garden trends in 2023? Check out our Garden Trends report for 2023!

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