Guest blogger: Hannah Mason, Special Projects Volunteer
When winter strikes, it can be easy to retreat indoors and assume your summertime backyard animal visitors have done the same. But the truth is, there are plenty of animals that stick around during the winter months! And just like us, they’re looking to stay warm and fed while they wait for spring to come. There are some easy things you can do to provide food, water, and shelter for local wildlife this winter right at your own home. Join us in building a better home for wildlife!
Leafless trees and snow drifts can make finding food a difficult job this time of year for local birds, squirrels, and other wildlife.
Setting up and maintaining a simple bird feeder is one great way to help! Check out Julianne Werts’s blog “Feeding the Birds in Your Own Backyard this Winter” for more info on different kinds of bird feeders. Some stores and websites even sell inexpensive, bird-proof squirrel feeders that you can buy. While local gray squirrels have their own stores of nuts, seeds, and other food sources hidden and buried for themselves for the winter, providing some extra nuts and seeds within squirrel access can help when the ground’s too frozen for them to uncover their underground stashes.
Also, if you haven’t deadheaded your flowers … don’t! Long after the last summertime blooms have gone, your flowerbeds may look withered and unappealing to you, but birds that stick around for the winter see them as a source of hidden seeds that they can feast on until you fill up your bird feeder. (Tip: Native Ohio birds prefer native Ohio plants! Check out Audubon’s native plant database next planting season for ideas).
As a note, one feeding practice that’s not recommended is throwing human food like stale bread out into your backyard for wildlife! While it can seem helpful (and entertaining) to watch birds and other wildlife flock to eat your tossed-out leftovers, human food is more likely to make wildlife sick, choke, or, for migratory waterfowl especially, set up camp at your house and never migrate like they’re supposed to.
Animals can’t drink frozen pond water any more than we can.
A birdbath is a great place to start to provide fresh water. It doesn’t have to be fancy. The key is to keep the water from freezing.
- You can by a heated bird bath online or from your local gardening center. Alternatively, you can buy a heater for your current birdbath.
- Or you can simply put a tennis ball, ping pong ball, or other small floating object in your birdbath. The wind will blow the object around and keep the surface of the water from freezing over completely.
Also, if you happen to have a manmade pond in your yard, don’t drain it or cover it up! It may freeze over at some point, but for much of the winter it can remain a source of water for wildlife.
Animals like to cozy up indoors for the winter just like we do. You probably don’t want local wildlife making itself at home in your attic, garage, or basement, so here are a few ways to build better homes for local birds, squirrels, and other wildife in your backyard:
In the winter, some birds will huddle together in bird houses to stay warm overnight. Typical nest boxes, however, are often too small for a group and don’t offer perching opportunities. Consider putting out a roost box – you can even build a roost box yourself – to provide a more ideal shelter for birds that is designed to conserve body heat.
How about for the ground-dwelling animals in your yard? Animals like chipmunks, mice, frogs and snakes often live underground or trees. In the winter, consider making a “brush” pile of leaves and branches for animals to burrow into for warmth. This can be as easy as leaving a corner of your yard un-raked.
But wait … What if I don’t have a yard?
Apartment dwellers can help, too! Anyone can hang a bird feeder or bird house on a deck, patio, balcony, or windowsill. (But when you start putting up items that attract birds close to a building … make sure you bird-proof your windows! Ideas in this blog.)
Another idea for nature lovers who don’t own much nature … get involved with organizations that do! For example, the Zoo’s Family Community Service program is a great way to join up with a community of nature-minded people here in town and give back to wildlife through one of our events or programs.
Build a better home for wildlife
As an added bonus, if you help provide homes for wildlife in your backyard, you may get the privilege of seeing more animal visitors all winter long!
Finally, check out the Zoo’s Build a Better Home for Wildlife web page to learn more about this initiative. Thanks for helping us build a better home for wildlife, both here at the Zoo and at your homes!