Winter is undeniably making its way toward us this season. As the temperature drops and the wind picks up its frigid pace, various wildlife are preparing themselves for the winter fright. By this time, many creatures have long started their winter survival methods, such as migration, hibernation, or camouflaging to more easily adapt to the harsh temperature drops. As part of such a great ecosystem, many of us may be tempted to help these animals survive the winter wilderness. However, it is important to be aware of the proper ways to care for these creatures if we come across one in need. Below are some tips for how to care for wildlife this winter.
1. Be Mindful with What You Feed Them
Many of us will want to provide some food to precious wildlife, and we can’t blame you! The winter freezes everything in sight, and food is especially scarce during this time. However, there are some animals that are better off not fed. Perhaps the best example of this are deer. During winter, deer undergo physiological changes to acclimate, and their diet becomes more protein-based. This means that the bacteria that was previously present in their gut during spring and summer is now replaced with bacteria best for digesting high protein-based nutrients in fall and winter.In fact, there have been multiple cases where deer have died due to a complication in the digestive tract when they were given food that was not appropriate to their current living situation. Deer may starve even when their stomachs are full of food due to bacteria incompatibility in their gut. Therefore it is most appropriate to be mindful of what we feed these creatures. The best route? Don’t feed them at all.
However, if you do choose to, here are some guidelines you must follow:
- Stick to natural browse plants such as: woody plants (dogwood, honeysuckle, red cedar, oaks); winter forbs (sedges); winter crops (wheat, clover, rye grass); and winter fruits (coralberry, sumac seedheads).
- DON’T FEED: hay, corn, kitchen scraps, potatoes, or cabbage/lettuce trimmings.
- Protect feed from moisture.
- Carefully select deer formulation in pellet form.
If you require more information on how to minimize impacts of deer-feeding during winter, Maine’s government offers a good article on the topic.
2. Leave Water Outside
Because freezing temperatures tend to leave ice instead of liquid, it is even more crucial to leave water outside for wildlife species. Birds, for instance, would benefit from water left outside for them to drink during winter. One can purchase a small heating rod that would prevent water from icing over—this equipment can easily be purchased in your local garden stores.
Alternatively you can invest in an artificial pond or birdbath and keep the water ice-free. It will most definitely be a welcome warmth for these friendly neighbors!
3. Winter Garden Wilderness
If you have a backyard, you can help provide a temporary solace by letting your backyard or garden, whichever is more applicable, run wild this winter. Let dead leaves, grass, and twigs pile up in a designated corner so wildlife can make a home out of this during the following winter months. Birds can also use the twigs for their nests!
4. Be Informed
While some wildlife is better off not fed, you can in fact provide food for some creatures. For instance, hanging feeders containing seed blends, peanuts, and sunflower seeds are great for birds! Hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds make for happy squirrels while cheese, boiled potatoes, and bread scraps during dusk are a great comfort for foxes. But quantity and mindfulness is key. Leaving too much can make them dependent and can cause a nuisance on you instead. Being ill-informed can prove fatal to their health.Remember that while helping wildlife is great, it’s also a huge responsibility. Being informed and mindful makes you a more helpful neighbor for wildlife this winter!
Check your Pocket Ranger® mobile apps for more information on habitat and usual wildlife behavior, available in Google Play and the Apple Store.