Picture this: you’re lounging under a warm cozy blanket with thick fuzzy socks while watching your favorite new TV show and sipping warm tea as big, beautiful snowflakes drift across the window. Winter is here and wildlife are gearing up for the cold months ahead. Miraculous adaptations prepare wildlife for the cold temperatures, however, a little bit of help is always welcome.
Many different species of wildlife have their own unique mechanism for surviving harsh winter conditions. The white-tailed deer exchanges its warm weather coat for one more suitable for frigid temperatures, the groundhog goes into hibernation, honey bees huddle together in their hives, and raccoons and chipmunks enter torpor, a less drastic version of hibernation. Despite all these amazingly strategic adaptations, we should still support our local wildlife.
One significant way is to provide appropriate food. During the winter months, finding food to maintain proper nutrition is a challenge for wildlife due to the scarcity of their natural diet. The berries, seeds, and bugs eaten by birds and squirrels and many other wildlife are no longer a viable source of nourishment, which can cause loss of life in many species. Making foods such as mixed seeds, plant-based suet, peanuts, and dried fruits available in your backyard will provide the necessary fats and sugars birds and small mammals need for warmth and energy. Cracked corn is also an option but only during the extremely cold months as it has a much higher fat content. It is ideal to use a wire mesh feeder for birds so that they can peck at the food and avoid choking. If you don’t have a feeder just be sure to crush any nuts into small pieces.
Just as proper nutrition is important for wildlife in freezing temperatures, so is hydration. Putting out fresh water in a proper container is an easy way to ensure hydration and help wildlife conserve energy in their search for water. An ideal container should be shallow with a sturdy place to stand while drinking. If you have a pond or a bird bath, breaking the ice is also an option to provide drinking water.
Another way to help is to let your backyard go wild. We all have a propensity to want to keep our yards neat and tidy, but this actually inhibits wildlife from finding sanctuary when they need it the most. Leaving piles of leaves, shrubs and other debris undisturbed during the winter provides many animals and insects with warmth and shelter as well as a place to hide, rest and hibernate. Because of this, it is important to always check that pile of logs before burning in case it is being used as a home by mice, snakes, frogs and other small creatures.
Winter months are such a difficult time for all woodland creatures. Local wildlife rescues such as, Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh, are often inundated with animals in need of care. They also have a higher volume of animals in their care even if they have already been rehabilitated due to needing to wait till warmer months to release the animal. This is the perfect opportunity to help by donating time, money or supplies to your local wildlife rescue or HAP’s Love your Wild Neighbor campaign, which aims to educate the public about the inhumane and ineffective trapping practices used in Pittsburgh and provide the city and its residents with humane wildlife conflict solutions.
Other ways to help include:
- Rake a pile of leaves into a corner of the yard that won’t be disturbed. Make a bundle of twigs and plant stems, such as sunflower stalks, with twine and place in the yard as well.
- Leave perennials untrimmed to provide seeds and shelter.
- Plant trees and shrubs with berries that survive the winter such as holly, photinia, bayberry and viburnum.
- Plant Evergreen trees which provide protection year round for many small mammals.
- Avoid cheap seed mixes as these consist mostly of nonnutritious filler.
- Plant nut bearing trees such as oak, hickories, and hazelnut.