How You and Your Kids Can Help Wildlife This Winter—In Your Own Backyard

Kids will love creating this live nature show—right outside their window!

11-04-2010 // Jennifer Bové
Little boy on playground

 

On frosty winter mornings, my little ones and I love cuddling up beside a window to watch busy birds bustling around the backyard. If you've never tuned in to this real, live nature show, you're in for a treat! And let me tell you, no television show can compare with the comic performances of these zany characters.

The secret to hosting your own backyard nature show is learning how to set the stage. It's simple: Provide basic creature comforts (food, water, and shelter), and you'll attract an entire cast of critters—even squirrels, rabbits, or deer. Ready for some wild winter entertainment? Here's how to get started:


Provide Food

 

Chickadee

Birds: Going outside to feed birds is a great excuse to get a little fresh air on cold winter days. Plus, kids love the idea that they're doing important work to help animals in winter.

 

1. You can buy bird feeders, but it's a lot more fun to make them, especially with kid helpers. All you need are clean, dry milk jugs and a few craft supplies to build your own bird feeder.

2. Place feeders about 10 feet from shrubs, brush piles, or other places where cats might lurk.

3. Make sure your feeders are keeping the seeds dry. If seeds get wet, dump out and start fresh to prevent mold growth.

4. Clean feeders every couple of weeks with a 2:1 mixture of hot water and distilled white vinegar. Rinse and dry thoroughly before refilling. (Since it’s a family project, ask for help from your little ones on this chore, too!)

5. When it comes to seed selection, I like to get black oil sunflower seeds. Birds love them! Seed blends may look appetizing, but they often contain "filler" seeds—such as millet—that birds generally won't eat. Here are some other tips to select the best bird seed for your feeder.

6. Kids are sure to get the giggles by watching squirrels perform silly stunts in your yard, but if you'd like to keep the bushy-tailed rascals out of your bird feeders, check out these 10 tips for outwitting squirrels.

7. When temperatures drop below freezing, provide energy-packed nutrition for hungry birds with these finger-licking fun projects: 

Other wildlife: Birds are the only wildlife that you really should feed artificially. But with a little extra planning, you can provide natural food sources for other animals in winter. Plant trees and shrubs that are native to your area and many can provide winter berries and other food sources. Get tips on how to easily do this and make your yard a wildlife haven all year long.

Provide Water

 

Bluebirds

When ponds and streams freeze, it can be hard for wildlife to find a drink, so birds and other animals might appreciate a pan of fresh water in your backyard, balcony, or deck. Try these tricks to keep your water frost-free:

1. Moving water is less likely to freeze, so you can install an electric of solar-powered fountain or "water wiggler" in your birdbath.

2. If your area is prone to long stretches of sub-freezing temperatures, you might want to invest in an electric birdbath heater.

3. Usually the cheapest solution is to place your pan in a sunny spot and fill with fresh, warm water as needed.

Want to upgrade your plain water pan? Try making a spectacular "splashy birdbath" with the kids.

Provide Shelter

 

Chipmunk

Natural nooks and crannies offer wildlife protection from harsh weather and predators. If you have low shrubs and thickets nearby, you're well on your way to full-fledged winter habitat. If your yard lacks shelter, don't worry—you're just steps away.

1. Rake fallen leaves and sticks into piles where they can be left undisturbed for insects, frogs, toads, and box turtles to burrow under. 

2. Build a rock pile in a corner of your yard. Chipmunks, mice, and snakes can find a home there.

3. If you have a small pond or creek on your property, leave fallen leaves and debris in the water to help creatures such as fish, crayfish, and frogs take cover.

Learn more about how to create a Certified Wildlife Habitat and make your outdoor space cozy for wildlife all year long.

Jennifer Bové, mom and former field biologist, is an award-winning contributor to Big Backyard® and the editor of three anthologies including Wild With Child: Adventures of Families in the Great Outdoors. Jennifer's blog is filled with timely tips and family fun. Stop by for a visit at www.bovesboots.blogspot.com.

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