By Debra Firmani
Winter may seem a quiet time for your backyard wildlife, but a surprising number of animals are still around. Help them out by making sure your backyard is safe and that it offers the basics—food, water, and shelter—for the long winter ahead.
Ready to put up your annual holiday light spectacular? Prevent deer from getting tangled in your lights: wait until after the first week of December (the peak of the deer rut, when they are most actively scraping their antlers), and don't put lights on trees less than six inches in diameter.
Attach lights firmly, rather than stringing them across open areas, and use multiple short strands that will be less trouble for any animal who might get caught in them. If an animal does get entangled, contact your state wildlife office or a wildlife rehabilitator.
If you have windows birds might hit, place snowflakes or other decorations 4" apart on them.
Store your summer stuff
Put away hoses, tomato cages, netting, stakes, ties, hammocks, and swings when not in use, and add flagging to clotheslines. Remove volleyball nets, rather than wrapping them around the post, as deer may rub their antlers on the pole and become entangled.
Winter eats for birds
Keep your bird feeders full. If you leave home for vacation, ask a friend or neighbor to fill your feeders, especially when extended cold temperatures and snow cover are expected. Here’s what to offer:
- -- Sunflower seeds—black oil, striped, and hulled—safflower seeds, and white proso millet
- -- Vegetarian suet and suet mixes
- -- Peanut butter mixed with cornmeal, pressed into cracks of bark or spread on a pinecone and rolled in seeds
- -- Pumpkin seeds (washed and dried in the sun or oven)
- -- Cut pumpkin shell in pieces
- -- A straw feeding wreath with wild flower or grass seed heads (sunflowers, purple coneflowers, grass, wheat, rye, barley, safflower)
- -- Dried, untreated corn on the cob or whole or cracked kernels
- -- Unsalted popcorn and cranberries, threaded onto cotton string and draped on trees
What's food without drink?
In winter, water can be hard to find. Make sure your wild neighbors have plenty of water available.
The gift of trees
Choose a living Christmas tree to bring into your home this holiday. They may be smaller and need a little TLC, but you can enjoy it for years as it grows to provide food and shelter for wild critters. If you go with a cut tree, set it outside after the holiday as a gift for wildlife.
Winter is the perfect time to start seedlings of native plants, bushes, and trees to plant for your wild neighbors in the spring. Check online or at a local garden center to find the best native plantings for your region.
If you have trees in your yard that are beginning to die, leave them standing (unless they present a safety risk, of course). Their cavities can supply food and shelter for animals large and small.