It's summer, and the wildlife is surely doing just fine this time of the year. But it's a totally different story during winter. Winter can be a difficult time for wildlife. The food supply of many animals disappears completely or is buried by snow. Animals survive winter in different ways. Some species migrate to warmer climes; others hibernate. But for those animals that struggle through it, winter can be a cold, miserable time, and many of them die unnecessarily.
The widespread destruction of hedges and woodland, the drainage of ponds and marshes, and the clearing of land in the country have altered animals' habitats, causing many of them to depend on backyards for food and shelter, especially in winter. Rather than rely on preservation groups to help the animals, there are simple things that everyone can do that will enable animals to survive winter. To be specific, there are two basic things we can provide to these animals during the harsh winter time: food and shelter.
Feeding birds is an easy way to help them through the winter. They will eat commercial bird seed or almost any type of table scraps. But once you begin feeding them, the birds will come to depend on the food you provide. Also, when you place food on the ground, be sure to leave it out in the open, away from cover where a cat may be lying in wait. Many smaller birds prefer to feed from bird tables. Nuts, raisins, fruit, and shredded coconut are highly nutritious for birds and are readily available in stores.
You should also provide the birds with fresh water, especially when their natural supplies are frozen. Fill a shallow bowl and place it near the bird table. If you have a birdbath, you can float a plastic ball in to keep the water from freezing.
Badgers, foxes, rabbits, and deer can be fed from yards in more rural areas. Squirrels, too, often visit backyards to take food from bird tables.
Even if you do not have a yard, you can still help. Whenever you go for walks, take food with you. The animals will appreciate extra food during the winter.
In addition to providing food and water, you can also make your yard more welcoming to wildlife in a number of other ways. Large bird houses placed in high trees will provide roosts for owls and other birds. Undisturbed compost will provide a resting place for hibernating grass snakes, and a woodpile will provide a secure space for toads and many insects.
Check out this list of seventeen animals and what we can provide to each one of them during winter:
1. Bats - Bat boxes on the eaves of the house or in trees.
2. Blue jay - Fruit and mealworms.
3. Cardinals - Seeds and live bait.
4. Chipmunk - Seeds and nuts.
5. Common frog - Damp, undisturbed areas and ice-free pond.
6. Common toad - Dry, undisturbed vegetation.
7. Deer - Fresh hay in sack.
8. Fox - Table scraps and cat food.
9. Grass snake - Leaf litter and dry ditches.
10. Gray squirrel - Nuts and bird table food.
11. Ground feeding birds (magpies, starlings, blackbirds, and crows) - Household scraps such as cheese, pork rind, and fruit; fresh water daily, especially when natural supplies are frozen.
12. Lizards - Logs or stones where they can hibernate.
13. Owl - Large roosting box.
14. Perching birds (woodpeckers, sparrows, etc.) - Bird table with peanuts, sunflower seeds, mixed seeds, fruits, berries, and bread. If you have the time, you can make a bird cake from a mixture of flour, water, corn, millet, meal, nuts, and canary seed bound together with chicken grease and allowed to harden. It can then be broken into pieces and scattered on the lawn or strung up from the bird table.
15. Rabbits - Some winter vegetables left in the ground or fresh greens put out near gaps in the fence.
16. Raccoon - Daytime sleep sites such as holes under sheds.
17. Slow worm - Holes in ground and undisturbed areas of vegetation for hibernation.
One of the best ways to help attract birds and mammals to your backyard is to provide suitable roosting sites. You can buy or build birdhouses; their design and position will determine which species they attract. Some birds prefer open-fronted boxes. Smaller birds prefer the security of a box with a small hole, which may be lined with metal to discourage woodpeckers. Larger boxes may attract owls.
Fortunately for the animals out there in the wild that may be in distress during winter time, there are a lot of things we all can do to help them.