How to Support Backyard Wildlife This Winter

Squirrel eating at a feeder in the snow
Photo: Dan Gregson/Flickr

While many animals hibernate during the winter, plenty of species do not. Here are a few visitors you can expect to see in your backyard and how you can help them make it through the coldest months of the year.

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For the birds

Photo: Deb Nystrom/Flickr

You can help birds make it through the winter by supplementing their natural diet with small handouts of seeds, peanuts and fruit. If it's too cold for you to to toss out feed, suet cakes can make a great winter addition to the birds' diet.

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Unexpected dinner guests

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Just remember that leaving these snacks out at night will attract many other guests, such as raccoons, opossums and coyotes.

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Here come the bunnies

Photo: Nadja Rider/Shutterstock

Wild rabbits leave tell-tale tracks that will let you know if they're exploring your garden. You can leave out a little lettuce and a few carrots as treats, if you want to help them through the winter — just don't get mad when those same rabbits raid your summer garden!

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A fur coat and fuzzy umbrella

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Gray squirrels are always ready to raid the bird feeder, even though they spent all autumn stashing away plenty of food to get them through a lean winter. (They also have a built-in umbrella for snowy days.)

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Owl be watching you

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Where there are rodents, there will be owls. You might be lucky enough to spot a barn owl — a species known to be tolerant of humans — hunting for rats, mice and other rodents in the evenings.

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Playing possum in winter trees

Photo: Geoffrey Kuchera/Shutterstock

Help wildlife find the warmth and shelter they need by letting your garden go a little wild. Let fallen leaves pile up and let evergreen shrubs grow untrimmed. This will give animals places to hide, rest, find food and keep cozy.

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We love redheads

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Woodpeckers blend in easily with the trees in summer, but in winter the bright red patches found on many species are more noticeable, so you might just spot some in your yard. Oily seeds are a helpful thing to leave out for these birds.

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Dressed all in white

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Some backyard visitors dress for the occasion, like this long-tailed weasel wearing a white winter coat. They're hard to spot in the first place, and this camouflage makes it even more difficult — which, of course, is the point!

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Bring a friend

Photo: Jan Tik/Flickr

The opposite of the snow-white weasel are deer. Their brown coats make them easy to spot against the bare winter background as they come to nibble on any edible plants they can find.

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A little is great, a lot is not

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Though it's helpful to wildlife for you to leave out snacks, don't leave too much. The key is to supplement without providing so much food that wildlife becomes dependent on handouts.

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You've got a little something on your nose...

Photo: Hal Brindley/Shutterstock

Coyotes are great neighbors as they keep the population of rodents and other carnivores down, helping songbird populations thrive. They also do clean-up duty as scavengers. But if you don't consider coyotes welcome backyard guests, then make sure to clean up any food sources, like scattered birdseed or snacks, left out for other animals.

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Keep your distance, neighbor

Photo: Dan Dzurisin/flickr

Here's a neighbor you only want to spot from a distance: the striped skunk. They're adorable critters ... as long as you don't make them mad.

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I'm feeling a little parched

Photo: Funk Dooby/Flickr

Wildlife needs fresh water during the winter, so leaving out a dish of clean water each night is a welcome resource, especially if it is in a dish that won't freeze over, such as an electric birdbath if the temperature doesn't dip too low.

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Many visitors means you're doing things right

Photo: Steve Byland/Shutterstock

Visitors to your backyard is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. The more diversity you see, the more you know you're doing things right. Planting flowers, trees and shrubs that attract wildlife during the spring and summer, and prepping your garden for winter during the autumn months will ensure your yard is a safe, healthy haven for wildlife.