With winter here, many people ask me about the best ways to help wildlife. There are some easy ways to help them survive, and I have listed these for you here.
- Provide natural food
- Put out fresh drinking water
- Let your garden grow
- Break the ice on ponds
- Provide shelter
- Create a nest
- Do not light fires
Please read on for more information on how to help wildlife in winter.
Is Winter Difficult For Wildlife?
Winter can be challenging for all species of wildlife. When temperatures drop, we are lucky enough to have insulated boots, shelter, and heating to keep ourselves warm.
Many of the animals in North America can be casualties of the cold climate. Most mammals’ fur doesn’t provide enough insulation to keep warm. Small animals can not insulate against heat loss without the required fat reserves on their skin.
During winter, food and fresh water are scarce, making it hard for these animals to survive. Avoiding the cold is vital for animals to make it through winter.
One challenge to all warm-blooded animals is to sustain their body temperatures. However, many warm-blooded animals have developed adaptations to bear the cold.
How Do Wildlife Survive Winter?
Wildlife has different methods of surviving the harsh temperatures in winter. Some of these animals will go into hibernation, while others will migrate to warmer places.
Some small animals, including raccoons, skunks, and squirrels, will invade homes searching for food, warmth, and a safe place to reside.
During this time, animals will hunker down in logs, while others choose leaf piles, tree barks, or even find other animals abandoned homes to keep warm.
Some animals, such as opossums and squirrels, do not hibernate. Instead, they use their fat reserves to keep warm and hide from the cold to survive.
In winter, fresh water and food are scarce, and many wildlife lovers choose to help animals in their gardens. Most animals struggle to find food and are also at risk of being attacked by larger predators.
Some mammals hibernate or enter torpor, dropping their body temperatures and heartbeat as low as possible to preserve their lives. This also reduces the need for as much food.
How Can We Help Wildlife In Winter?
Animals struggle to survive through winter because there is less food, and the cold temperatures reduce their core body temperature.
For this reason, it is always worth trying to help animals in winter. By assisting them to survive through the winter, you are helping them and any young ones they may have in the future. Animals will appreciate any food and fresh water you put out for them.
What To Feed Wild Animals During The Winter?
The first question you may have now that you have decided to help wildlife is the type of food they will need.
Most small animals, including raccoons, squirrels, and opossums, will always appreciate groundnuts, vegetables, hazelnuts, biscuits, and sunflowers.
You can also offer nuts and cat biscuits to wild animals to support them through this challenging season. However, please do not feed them bread or milk, as this can cause diarrhea.
Squirrels will also appreciate watermelons, grapes, and kiwi fruit. Most squirrels and small animals love nuts and acorns. However, they sometimes feed on eggs and plant materials like flowers and leaves.
How To Feed Wildlife During The Winter?
Wildlife will always approach your yard in the hope of finding food. For this reason, you can get nuts or vegetables and keep them in the backyard.
Unique feeders can be purchased for feeding opossums, squirrels, and other small animals in your yard. These should also keep rodents such as rats away as they will not get to the food.
Once the winter is over, if you wish to remove the feeders, you can limit the number of animals in your yard in other seasons.
Water can also be scarce for animals in winter, with many regular water sources icing over. Putting a bowl of warm water out will help small animals in winter.
Provide Them With Shelter
Some small mammals, such as raccoons and opossums, are very active during the night, sleeping during the day. For this reason, try to ensure there is food at night, as they will be looking for fresh water and food.
If you have an outhouse that you are currently not in use, you can put corn and nuts there for the animals to eat. This can also be a good place for them to make their home for the winter.
Winter is the time of the year when you should allow your garden and home to turn wild. However, I don’t recommend letting these animals access your house, as they can spread disease.
Let Your Garden Grow
During the winter, you should help animals by all means possible. Besides feeding them, it is a great time to allow your yard to go wild.
Leave undisturbed areas where these animals can reside. These can be piles of leaves or bushes that can offer a warm habitat to them. This is also a good place for them to hibernate.
Break The Ice
You can expect a lot of ice during the winter, which stops many animals from getting enough to drink. Break the ice on water sources, such as ponds, and allow the animals to drink.
Provide Fresh Water
Try to provide clean water to these animals. This will encourage small animals to visit your garden regularly. Do not provide them with other drinks, like milk or carbonated drinks. These can cause diarrhea and other problems when consumed.
Many animals don’t have the proper adaptations to survive the winter weather. Some do not have enough fur or fat reserves and can lose their body temperature quickly.
This is one of the main reasons you see them in your garden, trying to look for food and warmer areas. The good thing is that most wild animals do not harm us and don’t destroy garden plants. For this reason, you can set aside undisturbed areas where these animals can live.
Create A Nest
If you have already cut your herbaceous perennials, you can bundle the stems together to serve as a habitat for small mammals. This is one of the best ways to keep these animals housed and warm during the season. Always remember not to disturb them until the hibernation period is over.
Do Not Light Fires Before Checking For Animals
This is one of the most overlooked parts of looking after wildlife. If you have built a fire in your garden and left it, many small animals may have made their nest there.
During the winter month, many animals may have chosen these areas as the best place to hibernate. For that reason, always check before you light the fire.
Try To Provide A Natural Source Of Food
If you have a larger yard, consider planting some plants that these animals can feed on. Any fruit and vegetables you grow can serve as a natural food source for hungry animals. We won’t starve if an animal eats some of the winter vegetables we choose to grow, but they might.
References and Further Reading
“Winter Wildlife: How to Help Birds and Other Wildlife Survive the Cold Months” by Jane Kirkland
“The Winter Survival Handbook: How to Survive and Thrive in Extreme Cold” by Peter Kummerfeldt
“The Winter Wildlife Companion: Feeding and Fostering Backyard Birds” by Margaret MacGregor
“The Winter Gardener’s Handbook: How to Care for Your Garden in Cold Weather” by Lewis Hill
“Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival” by Bernd Heinrich
“Helping Birds Survive in Winter: A Guide to Winter Bird Care” by Janice M. Hughes
“Wildlife in Winter: How to Help Birds and Other Animals Thrive” by Christina Selby
“How to Help Wildlife in Winter: A Guide to Feeding and Providing Shelter” by Susan McElhinney
“Winter Survival for Wildlife: A Guide to Keeping Wild Animals Safe During the Cold Months” by Jennifer Cahn
“The Winter Survival Kit for Wildlife: How to Help Birds and Other Animals Stay Warm and Fed” by Elizabeth Lawlor.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.