Nature Notes

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.

Wildlife in Winter

   We have already experienced cold weather and some snow this year.  While we may have brief warm-ups, it seems likely we will once again return to normal winter temperatures.  We can spend more time indoors to escape winter conditions, but the snow and extreme cold puts added pressure on wildlife.  There are a few things, though, that we can do to make our landscapes more winter friendly for wildlife.  By providing sources 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.  Black oil sunflower seeds are a favorite.  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 near 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.

   With just a little effort, we can make winter a bit easier for wildlife.  We can enjoy our time outdoors knowing that we are providing a more welcoming winter habitat for the wildlife that always lift our spirits.