Before you bundle up and head outside for that last mow and rake of the season, take a moment to consider the wild animals you could be helping by simply putting off your usual fall yard clean-up. Sound too good to be true? “Believe it or not, creating a winter wildlife haven is as easy as letting your lawns and gardens get a little ‘wild’ themselves,” says Meghann Cant, animal welfare educator for the BC SPCA.
Winter is a stressful time for wildlife. “Though wild animals have adapted to the changes brought on by the season, survival is still a daily struggle for many,” says Cant. “Finding food and shelter all while battling deep snow and freezing temperatures is challenging.” Fortunately, she adds, you can lend a helping hand in your own backyard by doing (or not doing!) the following:
- To mow or not to mow. Long grass can shelter overwintering insects. Come spring, the insects will be protein-rich food for baby birds.
- Just a litter bit. Piles of leaf litter can provide a place for animals such as frogs to hibernate.
- The need for seed. Allowing plants to go to seed can feed hungry birds spending the winter here. Seed heads can also house overwintering insects.
- Let it bee. Old plant stems make great homes for a variety of overwintering insects, including bees. The dead stalks can also serve as construction materials for birds beginning to build their nests in the spring.
- Brush up. Brush piles can give dense cover to animals such as chipmunks, marmots and hares.
- Break the ice. Keeping a hole open in your pond can provide birds and mammals with a source of drinking water. Instead of breaking the ice, place a container of hot water on the surface to melt it through. Remember to remove any fallen leaves from your pond, too: decaying leaves can harm fish.
- Rock it. Rock piles, especially when positioned near water, can provide habitat for amphibians and reptiles.
For those areas of the province where winter has already settled in, Cant suggests looking ahead to the holidays. “When you harvest holly to make festive indoor decorations, be sure to leave some berries for the birds – they love them,” she says. Cant also suggests donating your Christmas tree to your local wildlife rehabilitation centre. “The tree can serve as natural enrichment for the wild patients in their care.”
So, put down that rake and put away those shears! Stay indoors this season, and enjoy watching your wild visitors take advantage of the winter haven you have created for them.
Photo credits: Gray jay, Rebekah Maitland; Hare, Donna Peet
The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a not-for-profit organization reliant on public donations. Our mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life for domestic, farm and wild animals in B.C.