How Your Family Can Help Local Wildlife This Winter

Common forest squirrel in the forest park.

While no one wants to encourage pest activity during the colder months, there’s something to be said for supporting local wildlife. Despite the fact that skunks and bats are known for being the most prominent carriers of rabies in states like Oklahoma, there are a number of creatures who can do a lot of good for the state of the environment. Whether you’re a tender-hearted individual who loves all sorts of animals or you simply want to protect the eco-system, supporting wildlife in your area — especially during harsh winters — can be highly rewarding. But what exactly can you do to safely help these critters survive? Take a look at the following tips in which the whole family can partake.

Provide Extra Food and Water

For animals that don’t hibernate, it can be tough to find food and water to survive over the winter. Providing some supplemental necessities to deer, squirrels, and birds can allow these animals to thrive. Feel free to hang up bird feeders or establish feeding stations that will allow your neighborhood wildlife to stop for a snack. Providing extra water is important, too. Animals get thirsty during the winter, especially when regular water sources freeze over. Heated birdbaths or shallow water dishes can come in handy.

Keep in mind that you need to adhere to specific dietary restrictions when leaving out food for wild animals. For instance, some general stores will offer corn or grain that’s meant for deer, but these foods can actually be detrimental to them. Do your research prior to putting out food items for your favorite creatures and make sure that they don’t become too dependent on you for sustenance. Otherwise, you could create a dangerous situation for both the animals and yourself.

Don’t Tidy Up Too Much

If you like a neat-looking yard, you might be inclined to invest in something like synthetic turf (the color of which can last for up to 15 years) or landscaping services. But resist the urge to clean up too much when fall turns to winter. Since many smaller animals use leaves, branches, and rocks for shelter, this can provide a source of food for larger creatures throughout the colder months or serve as a good place to spend the winter. Herbaceous plants can also provide shelter for “good” insects like ladybugs and certain beetles, which may be helpful once spring rolls around. Herbivores will also be grateful if you don’t get rid of healthy plants over the winter, as this can provide an ongoing source of food in your garden.

Offer Up Supplemental Shelter

In addition to rocks and branches, you might want to add some extra shelter for creatures in your midst. Otherwise, you might find that animals will decide to spend the winter in places you’d rather they not! AC units, for example, need around 20 BTU per square foot of space to run smoothly during the summer. But in the winter, covered AC units may look very attractive to smaller animals. Instead, consider making or buying bird houses, roost boxes, or piles made of leaves, compost, or other debris to protect animals in need over the winter. These should be situated far enough from your home to discourage them from making their way inside (but close enough that you can still view their comings and goings for entertainment!).

Donate Supplies to Shelters and Refuges

If you don’t have a yard or don’t have control over your landscaping, consider making some donations to local shelters, rehabilitators, and wildlife refuges. Many animals are rescued during the colder months and may not be able to be returned right away, so these facilities could use extra food and supplies for their wards. You might also be able to volunteer your time, depending on the circumstances. While you should always ask these organizations what they need most, many will require food, blankets, heating pads, towels, newspapers, and other bed linens. If you have some lying around the house or feel like giving back this holiday, this can be a great place to start.

With so much to worry about this holiday season, you might not be thinking about wildlife in your area. But if we start by protecting our environment and the other creatures who live alongside us, we can continue that spirit into the new year and continue protecting one another.

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