Winter wildlife and your backyard
With winter incoming, it's time to think about making your backyard wildlife comfortable. Although winter snow can look picture perfect to us, it is far from idyllic for wildlife. It can be hard for them to find enough of the right food, water, and shelter they need to survive. To survive the cold, they must have ample fuel (food) to keep them warm, but the shorter winter days give them less daylight hours to find that food.
Just as we have food preferences, so does wildlife. Although many of us feed birds in winter, some species often find our offerings unappealing. By expanding the menu at our backyard bird diners we can increase the variety of birds that visit them. This is especially true for wildlife that typically eats fruits and berries, or insects and other invertebrates.
Our yards seldom contain trees and shrubs with fruits and berries that last throughout winter. Grapes or sliced citrus, apple, or banana are a special treat that will draw many birds. You can even put out raisins. Make sure to chop and soak the raisins in a little warm water to soften them up.
If you have feeders out, make sure to keep them clean and free of any old compacted seeds. If it snows, try to keep the feeders clean and clear of snow. Make sure to also sprinkle food on the ground for the ground-feeding birds who are especially hard hit when there is snow and ice cover. Suet feeders provide a great energy source as well.
This article from Audubon provides information on the different types of bird feeders available. This other article has information on helping birds. You can give your kids a project for the birds and have them make a pine cone feeder, a bagel feeder, or a toasty feeder (all activities are from Ranger Rick).
Though the weather is colder, it is also important to provide a source of fresh water for wildlife. Few birdbaths or others sources of water are available during the winter months. As a result, birds are often forced to fly long distances to drink and maintain their feathers. A birdbath will do just fine, and will provide a source of water to other wildlife also. To keep the water in the birdbath drinkable, place it in a sunny spot so any snow or ice can melt during the day. You can also float a ping pong ball, or other floating object, in your bird bath. With the wind blowing the ball around, it can help to prevent the surface of the water from freezing over completely.
Your kids can build a bird bath, or enhance an existing bird bath by creating a dripper.
In the winter months, with no leafy shrubs and trees, there are few places for wildlife to escape predators and survive the harsh weather. To help wildlife seeking shelter, gather dead branches and brush. You can create piles around the yard. Birds will very much appreciate the piles being placed close to their feeding source. Firewood stacks can also provide great source of shelter. You can create lots of nooks and crannies by staking the firewood in a criss-cross pattern.
If you have any evergreen trees, their thick branches provide great coverage for birds. It's a bit late to plant an evergreen this year - but its a thought for next year. After the Christmas holiday, if you have a live tree, you can prop it outdoors for wildlife to utilize into the new year. Do make sure to take it down before nesting season though, otherwise you'll need to leave it up until early summer.
If there are still leaves on the ground in your yard, let them be. Or, rake them into flower or garden beds. The leaves provide an excellent location for birds and bugs to forage, while enriching your soil as they rot.
If you have trimmed plant stems leave them in a pile in your yard, several species of insect overwinter as larvae within these. If there are seed heads still attached, they will contain minuscule seeds that provide food for wildlife all winter.
Winter is also a great time to think about building nesting boxes for the Spring. ODNR Division of Wildlife has nest box plans available for a variety of creatures.
Now that you are attracting wildlife to your yard, learn about your visitors with these guides provided by the ODNR Division of Wildlife:
You can engage your kids in learning with these STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities.