National Award Given for Gulfport Backyard

Recently, Wesley Ray, left, and Gulfport Vice Mayor Paul Ray received certification from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) for their local backyard, which is now an official wildlife habitat. The NWF sign that Wesley is holding will be showcased in their yard.

Inspired by an Animal Planet TV show, two Gulfport residents who have taken years to select just the right items have recently had their backyard certified by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) as an official wildlife habitat.

Backyard Habitats, which aired from 2005-2006, primarily featured makeovers for suburban properties so homeowners could qualify for the NWF honor.

Gulfport Vice Mayor Paul Ray and his partner Wesley have achieved success on their own at their Stetson area home by also looking at local resources.

“Part of the design of our backyard is from Sunken Gardens and Sawgrass Lake park where there is a butterfly garden,” said Wesley. “We grab ideas from different gardens to come up with what we have.”

The NWF certification process includes a checklist of sustainable practices grouped into four categories: food, water, cover and places to raise young.

The Rays have focused on creating a habitat for birds, butterflies, reptiles, fish, and insects like dragonflies and bees but not mosquitos.

Tips for Success

The right kind of fertilizer helps host plants flourish.

“We don’t use commercial fertilizer,” said Wesley. “We use poop from our chicken coop.” The slow-release natural fertilizer is regularly spread all around the plants to keep “everything nice and healthy.”

Through trial, error and plenty of mistakes, they discovered what plants work for attracting and feeding different wildlife, he said.

“When you do research you find out, ‘Oh, this is a host plant for this.’ Like if you want more bees, bees like flowers that are white or purple,” said Wesley. “And, then you find out a good plant for the butterflies.”
To attract both bees and butterflies, plant a Sweet Almond Bush, he said. And, buy plants from a local nursery rather than a box chain store to avoid anything that has been treated with a pesticide, as that will kill caterpillars.

Their water source has been in place for seven years and is now an established ecosystem.

“Our pond hasn’t had any water added to it in years,” said Paul. “It just stays that way because it’s protected enough with surrounding foliage. It also has fish in there. We never have to clean it.”

Gold and mosquito fish co-exist with bull and green frogs in the pond. 

“Having frogs in your yard means you have good air quality because they breathe through their skin,” said Wesley.

An abundance of dragonflies is also a sign their pond is healthy, said Wesley.

Water lilies provide cover by protecting the fish and frogs from the sun. The lilies also keep the pond cooler and algae free.

Other forms of plant cover in the yard provide hiding spaces for baby birds when they fledge from nests, he said. Specialized houses for native bees and bats to raise families are also located throughout the habitat.

For more information about the NWF certification program along with an online tool that helps to identify local native plants by Zip Code, visit

“Sometimes, people don’t realize the habitat that’s underneath their fingers,” said Paul. “It’s really kinda neat.”


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