10 Things You Can Do to Help Wildlife

Ranging From Keeping Cats Indoors to Building Wildlife Shelters

In the face of species loss and habitat destruction, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless to improve things. But any action you take, no matter how small, will help restore the world to its natural balance. If millions of other people do the same, there's hope that we can permanently reverse current trends.

Here are 10 things you can do to help wildlife, ranging from keeping your cat indoors to contributing to reputable wildlife preservation organizations.

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Think Twice Before Landscaping

A nicely landscaped garden

 Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images

If you have just purchased or inherited a house or a piece of land, you might be tempted to chop down unsightly trees, pull up weeds and ivy, or drain puddles and swamps. But unless you're confronting a genuine safety issue—say, a dead oak poised to topple onto your roof during the next storm—remember that what's unpleasant to you is home sweet home to squirrels, birds, worms, and other animals that you might not even know are there. If you must landscape your yard, do so gently and thoughtfully, in a way that won't drive away native wildlife.

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Keep Your Cats Indoors

cat with a bird in it's mouth

 Jill Ferry Photography / Getty Images

It's ironic that many people who profess to love wildlife have no problem allowing their cats to roam freely outside. Cats are animals, too, and it seems cruel to keep them shut up inside the house. Outdoor cats, however, don't think twice about killing wild birds and won't necessarily eat their victims afterward. In case you're thinking about "warning" the birds by attaching a bell to your cat's collar, don't bother: Birds are hard-wired by evolution to flee loud, startling noises and cracking branches, not jingling pieces of metal.

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Don't Feed Any Animals but Birds

Squirrel in a trash can

 Paul Marotta / Getty Images

That deer or raccoon that wanders into your backyard might look hungry and helpless, but if you feed it you won't be doing it any favors. Giving food to animals accustoms them to human contact, and not all human beings are as warmhearted as you are. The next time that raccoon visits a house, it might be greeted with a shotgun rather than a sandwich. Feeding wild birds, on the other hand, is OK as long as you don't have outdoor cats (see previous) and you provide a meal in keeping with the bird's natural diet. Think nuts and seeds rather than processed bread.

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Turn Off That Bug Zapper

A bug zapper

John Lamb / Getty Images

No one likes being bitten by mosquitoes or plagued by flies on their front porch, but that doesn't always justify using bug zappers and tiki torches. The light and heat of these contraptions can attract faraway bugs that had no intention of visiting your house, and frying them deprives other wildlife (frogs, spiders, lizards, etc.) of their accustomed meals. It takes an especially compassionate human to make this compromise, but if bugs are really a problem, consider screening your porch or applying a topical bug spray to your arms and legs.

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Clean Up Litter (Not Only Your Own)

Picking up litter

 Sawitree Pamee / EyeEm / Getty Images

If you're concerned about protecting wildlife, you know better than to litter. But it's not enough to keep your own yard or picnic area clean; you should go the extra mile and pick up cans, bottles, and debris left by other, less thoughtful people. Small animals can easily get trapped in or injured by this litter, making them easy pickings for predators or dooming them to a slow death. And when piles of garbage accumulate beyond anyone's control, the result is near-complete habitat loss.

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Plant a Garden—and Stock It With Water

Ladybug and mushroom

mikroman6 / Getty Images

Most people who plant gardens *don't* want wild animals to destroy their roses, azaleas, and holly bushes. But web resources can teach you how to plant gardens that nourish and protect bees, butterflies, birds, and other animals. Unlike the case with food (see previous), it's fine to keep your garden stocked with fresh water because animals can have a hard time slaking their thirst in the heat of summer or freezing cold of winter. (The trouble is, stagnant water can help breed mosquitoes, and you've already given up that bug zapper!)

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Set Up a Wildlife Shelter

birdhouse in a tree

Lars Baek / EyeEm / Getty Images

If you want to go a step beyond planting a wildlife garden, consider building a shelter on your property for birds, bees, or other animals. This will involve, for example, constructing birdhouses to the appropriate scale, hanging them at the proper height, and stocking them with the right food. If you want to keep bees, you'll need to invest in a fair amount of equipment (for which our rapidly collapsing wild bee populations will thank you). Before you start hammering and sawing, though, study your local regulations; some municipalities restrict the kind of animals you can keep on your property.

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Join a Wildlife Conservation Organization

WWF logo


Different wildlife conservation organizations have different objectives. Some work to protect small plots of habitat or to shelter specific animals such as whales, while others focus on establishing good environmental policies by local government. If you have an area of interest, you can usually find an organization devoted to the species or habitats you're most concerned about. Even better, most of these organizations rely on volunteers to help sign up new members, lobby government bodies, or clean the oil off seals, so you'll always have something to do with your time.

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Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Industrial smokestacks


DKAR Images / Getty Images

One of the gravest threats to wildlife is pollution. Carbon dioxide emissions cause oceans to become more acidic, endangering marine life, and polluted air and water have an outsize impact on terrestrial animals. By keeping your home a little warmer in the summer and a little cooler in the winter and using your car only when necessary, you can help reduce the impact of greenhouse gases and do your part to decelerate the pace of global warming, which might help trigger the resurgence of wild animal species around the world.

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Get Out and Vote

Voting booths

Hill Street Studios LLC / Getty Images

The simplest thing you can do to help protect wildlife is to exercise your constitutional right and vote, not only for candidates who actively support conservation efforts but also for those who willingly fund the Environmental Protection Agency, seek to curb the excesses of global business interests, and accept the truth of global warming. If people in government aren't invested in restoring the balance of nature, it will be harder for grassroots efforts like these to have any long-term effect.