How Wildlife Prepares for Winter in CNY

How Wildlife Prepares for Winter in CNY
by Collette Charbonneau
Provided by Linda DeStefano
Translated into Spanish by Rob English

As the summer glow fades until next year, the warm colors of fall begin to appear. Soon, blankets of snow will cover the ground, the trees, and also our cars. As you shuffle from one building to the next, from one heated room to another, do you ever stop to wonder what is happening outside your window?

While you may not hear as many birds at 5am this time of year, those who have chosen to stick around and brave the temperature drop are still out there, hunkering down at night and waking up to a chilly, snowy froth above their heads each morning. They worked hard in the spring to build their nests and raise a new generation. But, most abandon their nests by fall, preferring to create a new nest the following Spring. They must now find ways to survive the winter and often have to get creative with finding an unoccupied bed for the night.

Cardinals are one common winter bird here in Central New York. The male’s bright red color is a welcome sight against the snowy backdrop. Like most birds, they do not sleep in nests during winter months. Walk outside, early in the morning, on a winter’s day and you might find a cardinal sitting deep in an evergreen tree. (These are the trees that keep their green needles all year long). This is the preferred winter home for cardinals.

Leave out your birdfeeder in the winter, well-stocked with sunflower seeds or a mix of seeds from a bag of local songbird food, and you just might see a cardinal, blue jay, or other winter resident in your yard. It is harder for them to find food in the winter so leaving food out for them all year is a good idea. Note: do not do this if you live in an area where black bears have been spotted. This will encourage them to leave their dens early (they can smell the food), which makes it nearly impossible for them to resume their deep sleep until Spring.

So what are those nests we see high in the treetops in the middle of winter? Let me give you a hint… think of the most common mammal seen in rural, suburb, and city neighborhoods.

Squirrels are the opposite of birds. They prefer to sleep in nests in the winter so they can get some relief against the cold, windy nights. They do not use these nests in the spring or summer. In early Spring, squirrel nests are sometimes destroyed by their creators or birds will swoop in and take what they need to make their nests.

Other mammals, including deer, mice, chipmunks, foxes, skunks, and opossums also need to find shelter (dens and burrows provide protection from wind, snow, and ice) and food in the winter. Giving them your patience, and plenty of space, will help ensure they get what they need too. Planting native bushes, shrubs, and nut-producing trees (oak, walnut, hickory, beech) can provide food for these animals too.

While taking steps to help wildlife in the winter shouldn’t turn into a feeding frenzy in your yard, if you are concerned, talk to your local town board or community association about creating a community garden/wildlife-friendly zone where the animals can safely gather foods and find shelter. I encourage you to look out your window, or step out onto the sidewalk one winter’s day, and look at all the wildlife around you. Winter is a time of rest, survival, quiet beauty, and perseverance that will be colorfully rewarded within just a few months.

Collette is on the board of People for Animal Rights (PAR). You can contact PAR at P.O. Box 15358, Syracuse, NY 13215-0358, (315)488-PURR (7877) between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.,
people4animalrightscny@gmail.com and peopleforanimalrightsofcny.org

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