Providing for Wildlife During the Winter
I think Mother Nature is confused with all of the Christmas shenanigans already in full force. It’s mid-November in South Carolina, and it is 25 degrees out there this morning at 7:00 A.M. The second wave of The Polar Vortex swept through last night leaving us a heavy frost and iced over birdbaths. I have a theory that if Christmas music wasn’t already playing everywhere then it would still be fall.
I worked outside like a mad woman last week finishing my own planting, leaf mulching–yes, I dismantled that entire pile of leaves–and generally cleaning up. I even managed to sneak in a planting plan for a client. The staining of the pergola and trellises continues, but otherwise, I only have a couple of chores left. Those chores include helping out my garden visitors during the cold winter months.
Last week I saw a great interview with Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba (China). He is a rather humble and remarkable human being. The western media often snicker at him because he often discusses things he has learned by watching American movies…particularly Forrest Gump. Unfortunately, the media misses his point. One thing he realized from watching Forrest Gump was that success is found in the little things. Forrest Gump made his fortune by catching shrimp…not the sharks. In the CNBC interview last week, he further explained this philosophy using Africa as an example…”The lives are not decided by lion, tiger, and elephants. The life is decided by the minor insects, the tiny insects. These are the things that change.“…an ecosystem.
What does Jack Ma’s philosophy have to do with gardening, fall chores, and wildlife? It’s the little things that can make a difference, and every single one of us…regardless of age…can make a difference by doing the little things. So what kind of things can you do in your own little piece of earthly real estate that make a difference to wildlife this winter? (And by wildlife, I am referring to birds, insects, squirrels, and all the other little creatures around.)
Scatter seed and provide a dish of water.
It is cold out there and the usual food sources are gone or harder to find. Birds and other critters need high energy food to stay warm and survive this often harsh time of year. Don’t bother battling the squirrels who seem to have such clever ways of staying fed and alive. (You got to admire their tenacity and cleverness.)
- Use a variety of bird feeders and seed. Keep the feeders clean and full.
- If you don’t have a bird feeder, use a dish to hold seed or just scatter some.
- Don’t cut back perennials with seedheads such as coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, and sunflowers. Save your cutting back until spring.
- Don’t cut back any shrub that produces berries. These berries are often a prized food source in the winter months.
- Make your own feeders by smearing peanut butter on pinecones and then rolling them in birdseed. Hang these on trees for a welcome treat.
- String together popcorn (plain–no butter, salt or other additives), cranberries, and dried fruit (left over pieces of apples and oranges) for a garland of goodies. Hang it on a nearby tree.
- Make your own suet cakes:
- Mix birdseed, nuts, oats, apple pieces, or cranberries with 1/2 cup of melted bacon fat, lard, or shortening. Pour the mixture into a small container such as a yogart cup. Once the fat has hardened, remove the suet cake and place it on a small dish.
Provide water in a birdbath or small dish.
Water can be difficult to find in the winter especially in areas where shallow water sources freeze over. Water is needed for drinking and bathing.
- Set out a shallow dish of water every morning.
- Heating sources for birdbaths are readily available or refill your birdbath with some warm water every day.
Birds and other wildlife need winter cover.
Where do critters go when it is so cold outside? While some do have cozy homes underground most must find cover above ground. You can help by not being so stinking tidy in your outdoors spaces…just for the winter.
- Don’t cut back your perennials and shrubs in the fall. (see this post) The skeletal remains of your perennials and grasses offer shelter to insects and some birds.
- Use your leaves as a thick layer of mulch or pile them up for use in the spring. Leaves provide insulation to the roots of your plants as well as a home for the garden critters. (see this post
- Build small brush piles if you have the space. Brush piles provide cover.
- Nesting boxes are often used for winter cover. Make sure they are clean from spring’s hatching.
Be consistent in providing food and water. The critters in your neighborhood will know that they can find needed nourishment and water at your place. Don’t let your restaurant have sporadic operating hours!
How do you provide for wildlife during the winter? Please share your ideas by commenting below!