Dare I say it? Winter is coming. True, we are enjoying beautiful fall temps, but as my garden visits begin to produce fewer treasures and leaves begin to fall, whispers of the approaching winter rudely force their way into my consciousness. Don’t get me wrong – I thoroughly enjoy the winter season, but I feel like summer was too short-lived and I want to be able to lounge in the sun and feel its warmth within my bones. That is one of my favorite feelings. However, reality insists on being taken seriously and as I look around my yard and listen to the birdsongs and chatter of squirrels playing in the trees, I am reminded that very soon I will need to make sure my yard and its inhabitants are ready to weather through the winter.
As I watch the landscape in Dubuque change around me, I am increasingly aware of my responsibility to provide supplemental habitat and feeding for our area wildlife. The electric company razed one of our tree lines – completely destroying natural habitats and food supplies in one fell swoop. Right now, heavy equipment is razing 4.3 acres of natural habitat and food supply off of JFK and the NW Arterial. It is easy to see the destruction of natural habitats and food supplies and not make any connections between area wildlife and our ecosystem, but the results are undeniable.
Below is a list of absolute musts that I endeavor to complete before winter sets in. What type of winterizing do you do in your backyard? Take a look at my list and feel free to share your own tips with others who would like to make sure their backyard provides support for wildlife trying to survive the winter.
- Winterize nests and roosts – clear out abandoned nests and roosts in the fall, birds will return to these nests throughout the winter, so it is important to clean them out early on. Also, provide new nesting material. Cut up old yarn, use lint from the dryer vent, or even strips of old t-shirts – make sure the pieces are short and narrow, ½” by 1” is a good size.
- When cutting back foliage, I always leave some through the winter. This provides shelter and a food supply when winter sets in. Remember different animals prefer different shelters – squirrels prefer trees, birds prefer trees and shrubs, rabbits prefer shrubs, brush and tall grasses, while deer prefer wooded areas or other areas with dense cover.
- Place an electric warmer in birdbaths – there are models that will shut off when the temperature is over 32°. This ensures a water supply for birds and other wildlife that will visit your yard throughout the winter.
- If you have the space in your yard, invest in a bale of hay that will help wildlife during harsher conditions. Remember, if snow is on the ground, wildlife can use it for food and nesting materials.
- Place a deer feeder as far away from your house as possible – or place bags of feed out with a panel cut out to contain the food and cut down on waste. Begin with small amounts of feed in late fall so that animals are used to it before harsher conditions set in.
A feeder like the one above can be bought on-line. You can find one like this at Hurleybyrd.
- Believe it or not, deer visiting our yard last winter enjoyed munching on tender plants that were protected underneath mulch and leaf piles. We piled all of our leaves throughout the fall along the back tree line and it provided cover for plants as the temperatures began to drop. Once the snow began to fall, deer were able to dig beneath the leaves to the protected greens far into February!
- Add one or two roosts to your backyard for birds and squirrels – this allows for them to roost together and use each other’s body heat to stay warm on the coldest days and nights. The opening on a roost is at the bottom as opposed to the top as in traditional birdhouses – this is to ensure heat does not escape as it rises.
If you choose to provide supplemental feedings for your backyard wildlife throughout the winter, please understand the commitment you are making. Wildlife will stray from their normal routes if they come to depend on a feeding spot. They will return to this spot wasting vital energy if food is not available. While wildlife feedings provide us with enjoyment, during winter it provides wildlife with vital energy they need to survive winter conditions. And remember, winter does not end on a specific date when it comes to survival – understand that if you plan to provide a reliable supplement for area wildlife that you will need to continue doing so until natural food sources become available again.