By Rachel Link
In the quiet cold of February, the bluebird has been long gone, but what about the “new bird?” Many species of wildlife do indeed migrate or hibernate during the winter, but we can still do our part to support the animals who stick around in the more frigid temps. If you’re looking for ways to make your backyard, garden, or even small patio support animals in the winter, PHS has some easy tips to turn any space into a winter oasis for wildlife.
Food is fuel, especially for wildlife in the winter! Many birds and mammals rely on fat reserves to keep warm during colder months, as the landscape has significantly fewer readily available insects and edible plant life. Consider setting out bird or wildlife feeders — you don’t need a ton of space to do this, and they can be hung up pretty much anywhere. Fill your feeders with fat and calorically dense foods like sunflower or safflower seeds, suet, corn, or peanuts.
To avoid the spread of disease, be sure to clean your feeders about once a week. You can do this with bleach and warm water — noting that the ratio should be no more than one part bleach to nine parts water — or apple cider vinegar to equal parts hot soapy water.
If you have a garden, consider leaving any remaining perennials, especially those that bloom in late summer and fall such as rudbeckia, native ornamental grasses, echinacea, sedum, and joe pye weed. Many birds and mammals will eat the seeds left behind.
Other great food (and habitat) sources are native trees and shrubs that bear berries, nuts, or seeds like magnolia, holly, beech, hawthorn, and various conifers.
Habitat and shelter are vital during the winter months. Much like our winter coats can only ward off the cold for so long, fat, fur, and feathers can only do so much to keep wildlife warm and protected from the elements. Perhaps you’re looking for an excuse not to clean up your garden when the temps hover in the teens — you can pat yourself on the back knowing you are helping lots of creatures seek refuge from the bitter cold by keeping fallen leaves and branches as they are. If a scattered garden feels like too much of an eyesore, consider raking the plant material into your flower beds or under trees or bushes.
Conifers and evergreens are also great for wildlife during this time, as their needles provide thermal cover, protection from wind, and shelter that is scarcer to find in the winter. You can also create a habitat with rock or brush piles. Instead of discarding your cuttings from winter pruning, gather them in a pile for animals to use as shelter or nesting material. An array of wildlife — from birds to insects, to mammals and amphibians — will benefit from this practice.
Last but certainly not least is water. Like the other resources we’ve recommended here, water sources in the winter are hard to come by — after all, most of it is frozen! If you have the space, opt for a heated birdbath, or try a shallow bucket, trash can lid, or plate saucer no more than 3 inches deep, changing out the water frequently to avoid freezing and spread of disease. If the water source can be placed close to food and shelter, expect to see more cold-hardy creatures in your yard!
When considering what you can do, remember that you don’t have to incorporate all or even most of these suggestions to make a difference! Adding one or two of these elements into your space, no matter how large or small, can support our local wildlife until we can all enjoy warmer times.