Northwood News ♦ December 2018
How to Help Wildlife This Winter in Your Own Yard
By Jennifer McGuire Cox
With winter fast approaching, here are some easy tips to create a wildlife-friendly yard!
- Leave the leaves. You can help wildlife, and save yourself a lot of effort, by
keeping the leaves in your yard where they are. Not only do they eventually break down and
enrich your soil, but leaves also provide habitat for a lot of animals. Insects, worms, snails,
salamanders, and even some bats often wait out winter in leaf litter. Birds and other insects
also forage in leaf litter for food over the cold winter months. If you don’t want to
leave your whole yard covered in leaves over the winter, you can also rake them to your garden beds
or just a portion of your yard.
- Keep that Christmas tree. Instead of putting your old and dying Christmas tree to the
curb after the holidays, why not put it in a corner of your yard? This provides shelter for birds
during the cold winter months as well as a place to protect them from predators. Not only can birds
use the shelter, but other wildlife can take advantage as well. If you don’t want to put a
whole tree in your backyard, gather some large branches and tree limbs that fall in your yard and put
them together in a brush pile. This will have the same effect!
- Put out a feeder. The hardest time for birds to find food is winter. If you don’t
want to commit to putting a feeder out all year round, the few months of winter is the most critical time
to do so. While the different types of seeds and feeders can be overwhelming, sunflower seeds
generally give you the most “bang for your buck,” attracting the most number of bird
species. Suet cakes — a solid mix of fats along with seeds, grains, and other ingredients
(see recipe below) — are also great for helping birds gain fat reserves during the winter.
- Keep those seeds. It’s tempting when you’re preparing your garden for the
winter to clean up by cutting or pulling dying plants and flowers. Instead, keep those stems, and
the seeds that are on them, for the birds. Native wildflowers — including black-eyed Susans
and coneflowers — are an important food source, as are several native grasses. Insect larvae,
another important food source for birds during the winter months, can also be found on dead plants.
- Don’t forget water, too. Birds and other animals still need to drink. With
temperatures below freezing during the winter months, having fresh water on hand is important. If
you already have a bird bath, don’t drain it for the winter but invest instead in a battery or
solar-powered water heater to put in your bird bath to keep that water flowing. Putting water in
a sunny place will also help.
Make Your Own Suet
1 cup rendered suet (beef fat)
1 cup chunky peanut butter
3 cups ground cornmeal
1/2 cup white or wheat flour
Melt the suet and peanut butter together until they are smooth and liquid. Add the cornmeal
and flour, mixing well. (These ingredients will make the suet more crumbly and easier for birds
to eat, as well as less messy in the yard.) Allow the mixture to cool slightly to thicken, then
pour it into molds or containers to use. Refrigerate or freeze suet until it is firm and you are
ready to use it. Extra suet may be kept frozen until needed.
[Recipe from ‘The Spruce’]
[Note: Suet may be obtained from the meat department at local grocery stores.]
[Jennifer McGuire Cox is a naturalist at Brookside Nature Center, Maydale Conservation Park,
and Croydon Creek Nature Center. She is also a certified Maryland Master Naturalist. She
lives on Belton Road.] ■