Written by Tolly Beck
Tolly Beck is the horticulturist at Lasdon Park and Arboretum in Westchester County. She was formerly a horticulture educator for New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland, NY.
Helping Wildlife in Winter
The cold, along with snow, has already descended on us this year. While we may experience brief warm-ups, it seems likely we will once again return to way below average temperatures. We aren’t the only ones suffering, as the snow and extreme cold also puts a great deal of pressure on wildlife. There are a few things we can do to make our landscapes more winter friendly for wildlife. By providing a source of food, water, and shelter we will make it easier for wildlife to survive.
Birds, and yes, squirrels benefit from a well stocked birdfeeder throughout winter. Suet, whether purchased or made at home, is an excellent and welcome source of energy. Pinecones rolled in peanut butter, then in birdseed, and hung from branches in the yard will also be welcomed. Many trees and shrubs in our landscapes produce fruit that is eaten by wildlife in winter. Native shrubs like Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) , and Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatic) are all good sources of winter fruit.
Water is another winter essential for wildlife. A birdbath, stream, or nearby pond will meet this need. There are heaters which can be placed in bird baths and small ponds to keep the water open all winter. As an alternative, a winter- proof large saucer can be filled with water and placed at ground level. When the water freezes in the saucer, the ice block can easily be emptied out and replaced with fresh water.
In addition to food and water, wildlife needs shelter in winter from both wind and predators. Birds, rabbits, squirrels and small mammals appreciate the shelter provided by evergreens, brush and rock piles. Bird houses, traditionally used in spring for nesting, are appreciated in winter as potential roosting areas that will accommodate several birds at once.
With just a little effort, we can make winter a bit easier for the wildlife in our landscapes. On your next winter walk at Lasdon Park and Arboretum, take note of the bird feeders by the Main House, the goldfish pond by the heather garden, and the hedge of hemlocks nearby . The Shop at Lasdon even has some handcrafted bird houses ready to be hung. It may be cold and snowy, but with wildlife in the picture it is always beautiful.