Make Sure Your Outdoor Christmas Decorations Don't Harm Wildlife

What brings you festive cheer might be a nightmare to the animals that visit your yard.

illuminated Christmas trees with the Three Sisters peaks nearby, Alberta

Nick Fitzhardinge / Getty Images

This is a time of year when many people love to place Christmas decorations not only inside, but also around the outside of their homes. But bright lighting, reflective surfaces, potential pollutants, and tangle hazards could be a bad choice if you want to do the right thing for wildlife in your garden.

So, rather than choosing options that might harm birds and other creatures, I recommend that you consider natural decorations instead. As a garden designer and consultant, I encourage everyone to create gardens that look great throughout the year, and to select seasonal additions to bring festive cheer without impacting the other creatures around us.

Outdoor Illuminations Confuse Wildlife

Many people love to go big when it comes to decorating their homes for Christmas, and often aim to create enough Christmas lighting to make their homes visible from space! But Treehugger readers will surely already be aware that those lights can potentially consume a lot of electricity—and even when it comes from renewable sources, there is still an environmental, as well as financial, cost.

A strand or two of solar-powered LED lights won't do much harm. But going overboard with Christmas lighting, especially when those lights remain lit throughout the night, can confuse wildlife and potentially do harm within the natural ecosystem of your garden.

house with lots of Christmas lights

can72 / Getty Images

So, if you do have outdoor lighting of any kind, it is best to make sure that you keep it to a minimum. And wherever possible, light it during the evening when you wish to enjoy it, and then keep things as dark as possible during the rest of the night for nocturnal creatures, and to make sure other creatures are not confused into staying up when they should be asleep. 

Reflective Surfaces Can Be a Danger to Birds

Another thing to think about is how it might not be the best idea to add large reflective surfaces to amplify lighting effects and put on a show.

I once saw a home that had been entirely covered with sheets of reflective metal before being decked in gaudy lights; it had large shiny metal sheets sticking up into the sky. This is, of course, an extreme example, but even smaller reflective surfaces can pose a threat.

Adding reflective surfaces increases the threats already posed to birds by large areas of glazing on homes. Birds can fly into these surfaces and be injured or even killed. We should be trying to reduce risk for wildlife in whatever ways we can, not increase it.

Tangled Wires and Netting Can Be a Hazard

Carefully considered smaller decorations can be installed in a sensible way that does not pose risks to wildlife. Another key thing to think about is tangled wires, moving parts, and netting that could harm wildlife that inadvertently gets too close.

Some Christmas decoration involves fine webbing or netting in which birds or other wildlife might become entangled. I once saw a gull caught in lights covering a tree as it tried to get food near the base. That bird was fortunately rescued, but others might not be as lucky if no one is around to extricate them. Small mammals and other little creatures can also easily make their way into small holes and be hurt or killed when a turning decoration moves once more.

If you plan on placing decorations outdoors, make sure you think carefully about any risk of wildlife becoming trapped or ensnared.

Avoid Any Plastic Decorations

inflatable Santa

Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo / Getty Images

Another thing to consider is that any plastic decorations are a bad idea, not only because of plastic's environmental impact during the manufacturing process and the waste problems it poses at the end of its useful life, but also because of the dangers that plastic particles pose to wildlife while still in use. 

When you think about plastic decorations, you might think of those large plastic Santas or snowmen that some people have on their roofs or front lawns. But you should also avoid the use of things like strings of tinsel, fake snow, and the synthetic felt coverings used to simulate snowfall on roofs, to give a few examples.

Small pieces of plastic entering the environment harm wildlife in a number of ways. It is best to reduce the amount of microplastic entering the environment whenever you can by avoiding the use of plastics in your Christmas decorations.

Choose Wildlife-Friendly Decorations

First things first, remember that there are ways to make sure that your garden looks great year-round, including during the festive period. By planting native evergreens and berry bushes, or embracing other native plants that provide color and interest at the requisite time of year, you might not feel the need for any additional decorations at all.

If you would still like to do something more to make your garden look extra special at this time of the year, consider options like natural bird feeder wreaths or garlands. These look lovely and festive and will actually help rather than harm the wildlife that shares your space.