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5 Ways To Help Wildlife Survive Winter


Male cardinal in sasanqua bush


Every morning I take roll call to make sure all of my backyard birds survived, especially when harsh weather strikes. Mr. and Mrs. cardinal, 2 bluebird couples, pine warblers and 2 yellow rumped warblers, sparrow clan, chickadee and titmice pack that always travel together. 


Female cardinal in flight off feeder in snow


And the list goes on...


Bluejay in snow on the ground


I worry for my babies when the wind howls and the temperatures plummet. Piling on layers of clothing and trekking like an eskimo through slippery ice patches and snow drifts two times a day (in sickness and in health) isn't always fun. But the inhabitants of my wildlife sanctuary are stuck 24/7 in wind chills and inclement weather with dwindling food selections so my few minutes of teeth chattering chills pales in comparison.


And yes, you may have an uninvited guest but all wildlife is welcome, particularly during the hardships of winter when harvesting their natural food sources becomes impossible.


Squirrel eating cylinder seed block in bird bath


Here are 5 things you can do to empower backyard birds and other wildlife to survive another day.

1.  Wildlife needs fatty high energy foods to get through winter. Suet, bark butter, sunflower seeds and nuts help them survive cold temperatures. Fruit, such as apples, oranges, and berries provide energy and water, in case your bird bath is frozen. I like to make my own combination of suet, chopped nuts, dried fruit, citrus and seeds. Sprinkle this delicacy on the snow covered ground under bushes and sheds or around trees so they can eat and be protected from weather and predators. By distributing food across your yard, it lasts longer and ensures that everybody gets some.


Suet seed and nut mixture for wild birds


2.  Wildlife cannot survive without fresh drinking water. They do eat snow as they feed but it's not the same. Heated bird baths are available if you're able to go that route but here's a more realistic approach. Supplying water is challenging, especially if the hose is frozen too. I keep small bowls of water on my deck rail year round for smaller birds that feel safe higher up. Nothing is easy in the snow but I shovel a trail from my patio door to the rail and deliver pitchers of water, multiple times a day, if necessary. It will stay unfrozen temporarily at around 20 degrees and above. I also hike larger jugs out into the yard if frigid temps stretch past a few days. Surprisingly, the sun will defrost the waters, even in the cold. Birds are smart and know to drink from the edges of bath bowls. Woodpeckers and squirrels can actually chisel the ice. Once you witness a tiny titmouse try to peck its way through ice for a drink, that will drag you out into the elements to help.


3.  For birds, surviving winter is about cover and clustering together. You'll see titmice and chickadees hang out. Blackbirds and bluejays will forget they are foes. Sparrows sleep in groups and robins nuzzle together for warmth. One creative way to nourish and protect wildlife, is to put your Christmas tree out in the yard. Tuck it into a corner by a shed or other bushes. Melt peanutbutter, pour over the tree, and throw on birdseed, raisins, and chopped nuts. Entertaining for you and energy for wildlife! Much better than trashing a healthy tree.


Christmas tree for birds


4.  Try to offer multiple feeders in a variety of sizes with different foods. Woodpeckers love suet and bark butter. Cardinals enjoy sunflower and safflower seeds. Robins prefer fruit and sometimes nuts. Thistle seed is a favorite for goldfinches. Place smaller feeders separately from those that are frequented by large birds so it's easier for all birds to dine.


Titmouse on peanut feeder

Multiple birds eating at feeders in snow


Don't forget ground feeders like doves and sparrows...


Doves feeding on ground in the snow


All my birds love bark butter, otherwise known as bird crack! Check out these adorable and very trusting pine warblers.


Pine warbler taking bite of bark butter from log

Pine warbler with bite of bark butter


5.  If you are a consistent chef, birds are dedicated diners at your feeders. Wildlife needs to eat everyday - rain, shine, heat or freeze, through work and vacation time. You wouldn't be happy if your favorite restaurant served food occasionally or every few days. It's cruel to start feeding birds and stop or leave empty bird feeders hanging. Wildlife is very loyal to their dining spots so please be consistent with supplying food and water.


Squirell tunneling for seed in the snow

Squirrel sitting up in tunnel of snow

Squirrel eating sunflower seed in snow


And here's the biggest mouth and appetite of all. A cute but hardy little menace :) Sunflower seeds are their favorites but they won't turn away peanuts or dried fruit and in desperation, they will suffer through the bitter flavor of safflower seeds. Of course the resident squirels in my yard never experience such states of hunger!