The fall months are filled with wildlife activity. Some birds are migrating to warmer climates, while other species are preparing to overwinter – meaning they’ll stay put during the cold weather months. Deer are preparing for breeding season, and many species are searching for shelter in which to hibernate.
At the same time, autumn’s cooler temperatures reduce food sources and thin the lush cover of trees. Backyards and gardens become important hosts for migrating flocks and overwintering animals. Of course, wildlife species instinctively know what to do as these seasonal changes occur, but there are a few ways we can help them thrive in our outdoor spaces during fall and winter.
Leave a Little Mess
Leaving certain spaces undisturbed in your yard – including shrubs, long grasses, and piles of leaves and brush – can create shelter for nesting and hibernation over the winter. Bricks, large stones, and overturned flower pots on the ground can serve as shelter to toads and insects. They can also house overwintering insects and larvae, which are food sources for many animals.
Hibernating bats and other wildlife may escape to a shed or loft to avoid the cold. Whenever possible, leave these places undisturbed through fall and winter.
Make More Shelter
While many bird species will use dense vegetation and brush for shelter during cold weather, some birds prefer birdhouses and roosting boxes. The National Wildlife Federation offers a few tips if you’re planning to install some boxes in the yard this season. If you already have a few birdhouses and roosting boxes around, be sure to make any necessary repairs before they become an overwintering home.
Break the Ice
If your garden pond freezes, gently melt a hole in the ice by placing a pan of hot water on the surface. The hole will release toxic gases that could otherwise poison fish, frogs, and other organisms that have remained in the pond.
Offer Food and Water
Leaving food and clean water sources outside will assist birds and other wildlife in foraging, which becomes increasingly difficult as the weather gets colder. Consider providing the following during fall:
- Seeds that attract native birds in your area
- Dried mealworms from a wild bird supply store
- Fresh and unsalted nuts including almonds, peanuts, and hazelnuts
- Chopped fresh fruit and carrots
Place bird feeders at various heights and away from windows. “To avoid crowding and to attract the greatest variety of species, provide table-like feeders for ground-feeding birds, hopper or tube feeders for shrub and treetop feeders, and suet feeders well off the ground for woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees,” the Audubon Society recommends. Different kinds of seeds in separate feeders can also prevent waste and crowding.
Animals can be particularly difficult to spot in autumn, especially on leaf-covered roads. Avoid speeding and scan the road for wildlife while driving. Be extra diligent during dawn, dusk, and shortly after darkness, urges the Humane Society of the United States, and assume that where there is one animal, the rest of the family is likely nearby.
Choose Lights Carefully
Intense lighting at night can disturb migrating and nocturnal animals. The Humane Society recommends installing lower-intensity and motion-activated outdoor lights. If constant outside light is necessary at night, use timed fixtures that aim light downward. Inside, close blinds or curtains in lit rooms to prevent birds from accidentally striking the windows.
By taking a few simple steps in autumn, you’ll create a haven for a variety of wildlife species. In return, you’ll have the opportunity to observe their amazing cold weather activities in your backyard.