5 Activities to Discover Life in Your Backyard

Summer is starting to wind down. If you’re like me, that’s a good thing. It means the days of feeling like a loaf of bread in a hot oven will soon be past. It also means I can enjoy my backyard again. I don’t have a large yard by any stretch of the imagination, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of activity. Unless you’re using pesticides, I am fairly confident I can say your yard is also a teeming smorgasbord of life. Insects, birds, lizards (depending on what part of town you are in), mammals, snakes, toads, spiders and many other creatures inhabit our yards. Don’t believe me? Try some of the activities below and you might change your mind. They are simple activities, fun to do with kids and require only a few items you probably already have around your house.

Pit Fall Trap

A pit fall trap made from a cup and leaf debris sits among some rocks.

A pit fall trap harmlessly captures many ground-dwelling insects and invertebrates. Centipedes, pill bugs, millipedes, beetles and many more fall into the trap and remain there until you release them. 

Items needed: Trowel or small digging tool, cup, rocks, leaf debris

Instructions: Place a layer of leaf debris in the bottom of the cup. Dig a small hole just big enough for the cup to fit in and place the cup in the hole. Place a few rocks around the cup and then a larger rock on top of the other rocks. This will provide cover and keep rain out. Check back the next day to see what is in the cup!

Cover Board

A cover board sits on the ground in the woods.

A cover board creates shelter for many insects, invertebrates and reptiles. It provides warmth (especially when placed in the sun) and shelter.

Items needed: A board (preferable at least a 2-foot square)

Instructions: Place the board anywhere in your yard. Leave it for a few days, allowing creatures to find it. After a few days, lift up the board and see what you can find!

Tracking Board

A board covered in flour shows different animal prints.

A tracking board is a useful tool to see what animals peruse your yard at night. They might not leave much evidence behind, but with a tracking board, they will leave their tracks.

Items needed: Plastic or wooden tray or something similar, flour, food for bait

Instructions: At night, many animals move along structures for cover; they don’t always like to be out in the open. Place the tray close to your house, around a shed or along a fence line.


A dish full of pebbles and water creates puddler for flying insects.

A puddler creates a resource for butterflies and other flying insects. Butterflies will oftentimes congregate together around a puddle or other shallow water feature, consuming the water, oils and minerals. This behavior is referred to as “puddling.” Make your own puddler and watch the butterflies flock to it!

Items Needed: Shallow dish to hold water, rocks of varying sizes, water

Instructions: Cover the dish with small rocks. Place larger rocks randomly in the dish. Fill the dish with water just enough to cover the small rocks, but not the larger rocks. Place the dish near pollinator plants and in the sun for best results.

Trail Cams

A trail cam is attached to a tree.

Trail cams are easy to set up, can be found cheap and there’s no better evidence of what’s in your yard than a picture! Trail cam technology keeps getting better and better; you’ll be amazed at the pictures you can get even in the dark of night. Many even take video. Not only will you get to see what haunts your yard at night, you might also get a great photo for the fireplace! Or at least the refrigerator.

Items needed: Trail cam

Instructions: Place the trail cam anywhere in your yard where you think animals will pass. Follow the setup instructions provided with your trail cam. Enjoy the pictures!

Even if your yard is tiny like mine, it is still an important piece of the ecological puzzle. Any of these activities will show you how diverse your backyard can be. You are always invited into Great Parks – they are your parks after all – but we want you to get to know what’s in your own backyard as well. Conservation doesn’t just happen in parks, it happens it the backyard too!

There’s one last step for all of these activities: Sharing your finds! Let us know what you find; we would love to see it. And if you need any identification help, send it to us and we’d be happy to help!

Paul Seevers
Nature Interpreter, Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve