By Katelyn Schutz CPDT
As we hunker down for another fierce Wisconsin winter, it’s hard not to wonder… and worry… about all the wild creatures living outdoors, trying to survive in the harsh and bitter cold. Here are some ways you and your family can HELP wildlife survive and thrive this winter!
Before getting back into your car, tap on the hood a few times. Critters, and particularly feral or outdoor cats, tend to climb in from underneath or hid in wheel wells to get close to the warm car engine. Turning on the car could be dangerous or lethal to a hiding critter, so be sure to make a loud noise before entering your care to scare them off first.
Leave areas of undisturbed brush and leaves for a natural shelter. Mice, chipmunks, toads and frogs, and other small wildlife often seek refuge under these natural piles. Decomposing leaves and such also make for a nutrient-rich environment for worms, insects, and bugs to hide in.
Cheap and easy homemade shelters can be built for cats and other larger wildlife to hide from the brutal elements, when the wind chill drops and the weather becomes more severe. Start with a disposable styrofoam cooler, as it will help warm the animal by radiating it’s own body heat. Cut a small entrance in the cooler, and add insulation such as timothy hay or blankets as desired. Place the styrofoam cooler inside a slightly larger plastic storage tub, also with a “door” cut into it. For added insulation, you can add a layer of timothy hay or styrofoam in between the two containers. Seal the top of the storage tub to increase water and weather resistance. Face the entrance south for increased sun, but decreased wind exposure. Consider using black or dark colored materials — they will naturally absorb more heat from the sun.
For little critters and birds, drill a hole in an old Igloo cooler, and hang in a nearby tree. You can put natural insulation, like straw, inside to encourage small animals to inhabit your weather-resistant shelter.
A fun winter activity for kids can be to make homemade bird feeders. Cut out a side of a plastic milk jug, fill with seed, and hang in a nearby tree. Pine cone bird feeders were always my favorite to make as a child. String up the pine cone with ribbon or wire. Smear peanut butter in the crevasses of pine cone, then roll it in bird seed, and let kids stick “decorations” on it such as sunflower seeds and chunks of dried fruit.
If you are going to use bird feeders, remember placement is very important. Feeders too close to bushes, shrubs, and tree branches could make birds suggest to predators lurking for their next meal.
Help by providing fresh water for the winter wildlife. Once frozen over, Wisconsin wildlife can struggle to find a fresh water supply. Place a metal pan in a sunny spot for the most warmth, and replace with fresh water daily. Consider a heated bird bath, or a fountain-style moving water bath to prevent freezing.
Follow these tips to help your winter wildlife this season!