Helping Wild Animals Through Winter


Need a good reason to sidestep that dreary fall clean-up of your yard? Here’s one: Leaving your yard alone helps backyard wildlife survive the long, cold winter! Find out more about how to help your local wildlife through the fall and winter times, where temperatures are cold and food is scarce.

Letting Leaves Stay On Your Lawn

Manicured green lawns may look pretty, but they don't provide much value for your local wildlife. By changing up just a few lawncare habits, you can help your local birds, reptiles, and small mammals survive the winter in style. 

Allow your yard to become what it was originally meant to be: a habitat. For the winter, at least, let all of that fallen foliage provide shelter, warmth, and food for birds, squirrels, mice, frogs, and other critters. Dead flowers, rotting fruit and unripened vegetables provide seeds, leaves, and stalks that many animals depend on for food. Fallen branches, sticks, and leaves provide shelter and places to hide, and much of it will be used as nesting material in the spring.

An added bonus of leaving your yard au naturel is all that dead foliage helps fertilize your lawn over the winter months! However, if you absolutely must clean up your yard in the fall, consider leaving a few brush piles at the back of your yard or out of sight. Your backyard friends will thank you for it.

If you live in an area that doesn’t provide much shelter by way of trees, bushes or thick brush, you can help provide roosting sites by planting dense bushes, trees, and vines that are evergreen (retain their foliage during the winter) or by adding nesting boxes of various sizes to your yard. Just be sure they’re out of reach of dogs and cats!

How To Clean Your Bird Feeders

Bird feeders provide a safe and reliable source of food for birds throughout the year, but especially in the winter. With an ever-changing climate, some birds may choose to stay behind instead of overwintering in a warmer place - so leaving bird seed out is a great way to support them. While providing food for birds during the coldest months is an immense aid, it can also cause issues if the food gets moldy. 

Unfortunately, bird food like seeds and nectar both grow mold rather easily, especially in wet conditions. Hummingbird feeders are especially susceptible to mold. The best way to prevent mold is to clean your bird feeders regularly. If you see mold, be sure to wash the feeder in water and bleach, and allow it to dry completely before refilling it. Consider hanging it in a drier place to avoid future mold problems. Seeds are usually less susceptible to mold, but make sure if the seed gets old, to replace it before it starts to decay. 

The best solution for keeping seed feeders mold-free is to keep them under a covered area, out of the rain. Some bird feeders come with covers that are wide enough to do the trick. Always keep them clean and filled with fresh seed. Suet blocks are a great way to provide the high-fat nutrition birds need over the winter months, and they’re usually eaten up before they have a chance to even think about molding! 

Caring For Other Creatures During Winter

If you're worried about other outside animals during the winter, there are some things you can do to help them out. The most important thing you can do for animals in the winter is to provide a regular supply of water. If you're afraid of the water freezing, avoid toxic ice melting solutions, and instead: replace it regularly, or consider using a heated water bowl or some other plug-in option to stop it from freezing during those cold nights. 

Don't forget about the ground, either! Many people use de-icing salts when conditions are slippery. These salts are toxic to wild animals when they've melted into water. It is better for the wildlife if you can use sand or non-toxic ice melting solutions. An unfortunate and common occurrence after a freeze is the poisoning of animals by ice melting chemicals when drinking melted ice and snow.

Finally, consider making some habitats or hides with plastic tubs and straw. Don't use fabric or cardboard as the sole insulators, as they can get wet and moldy very easily. You can create hides easily by cutting two doors into plastic tubs and stuffing them with straw. These hides can serve as safe havens for small mammals, opossums, and local feral cats. 

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Tags: Education, Outreach, ~expert-advice
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