Ask any squirrel — it’s not nuts to be getting ready for winter. The bushy-tailed rodents, just like people, require the basics year-round: food, water, and shelter. They, and many other animals, just need to find it entirely outdoors. So even as they spend the next several weeks foraging for enough sustenance to last them through the harsh winter ahead, people can start to plan how to help their furry and feathered neighbors survive. And since Sept. 4 marks National Wildlife Day in the U.S., it’s the perfect time to consider some simple steps that will transform your yard into a winter habitat for creatures of all kinds. Isn’t that the definition of eco-friendly?
In fact, you can let your fall yard work go (almost) entirely. That’s because as fallen leaves disintegrate, they become mulch, which acts as a fertilizer and provides a perfect home for small animals to use as a makeshift shelter. If letting your leaves dissolve where they lay is just not tidy enough for you — and you are compelled to rake — move them under trees or into flower beds so, even while out of the way, they can act as valuable real estate for the local wildlife. Even doing something as simple as letting your stems remain standing in your flower bed can create a spot for insects to insulate themselves through winter’s darkest weeks.
Tired of looking out at nothing but grass? So are the animals that live around you. Adding trees — even bushes — to your yard is the ideal way to create a wildlife habitat that animals, small and large, can appreciate. Evergreens are excellent because they never shed their needles, providing plenty of shelter for birds that can nest amid the branches and landbound creatures that can hunker below. For squirrels, the most popular trees are oak trees, which provide abundant acorns for food; maple trees, which produce a sweet sap that squirrels enjoy; and pine trees, which offer soft needles for nests. In addition, fruit trees such as apples and cherries are also favored by squirrels, who love to feast on ripe fruit.
Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, which helps them to thrive. In addition, by planting native plants, you can help preserve our ecosystems' genetic diversity. You can get wild tree and flower seedlings in a few different places. One option is to buy them from a nursery or garden center. Another option is to collect them from the wild yourself. If you go this route, get permission before taking anything from public land. You can also find seedlings that birds or other animals have started. Finally, you can gather seeds from mature plants and grow them yourself. Whichever method you choose, be sure to plant the seedlings in an area with plenty of sunlight and well-drained soil. With some care, your wild trees and flowers will soon bloom.
Put out a bird feeder and fill it with seeds, nuts, and berries. You can also string some popcorn or cranberries on a string as an edible garland. Because birds need to consume a lot of calories to keep from freezing, don’t skimp on fatty foods. You can even add peanut butter to the mix. Finally, if you have flowers around, leave them alone for the winter since birds will feed on the seeds.
Keep the water topped up
Like food, animals need water year-round, no matter the temperature — which presents a problem in the depths of winter. One way to combat the icy cold? A heated birdbath. Otherwise, make sure to keep what water you’ve put out in dishes consistently thawed (with hot water) or swapped out for fresh liquid.
Watch what you feed the squirrels
As the weather gets colder, many animals need a hand. Squirrels, for example. They collect nuts and build their nests higher in the trees to stay warm. You can help them by doing a few things:
- Don’t feed them bread or nuts. This might seem like you’re being nice, but it’s bad for their health.
- You can put a squirrel feeder in your yard. Make sure to put it high up, out of reach of cats and dogs, so they don’t steal what’s not meant for them.
- As mentioned before, you can help squirrels by planting trees.
Because squirrels are some animals that need trees and seedlings for their food and shelter, but there’s more. Because as soon as you plant trees for squirrels, it also helps to offset carbon emissions from cars and factories. So next time you see a squirrel, give it a smile — and know that you’re helping to make its upcoming winter a little bit easier.
Be careful when using salt
It's common to sprinkle salt on walkways and driveways to melt ice and snow, but this can harm animals if they lick it off their paws or fur. Use sand or kitty litter instead of salt or keep it away from areas where animals play or sleep.
Keep your cats indoors
When cats roam outdoors, they sometimes kill small wildlife for fun or sport. Keeping your cats inside can help reduce the number of animal deaths each winter.
In addition, you can help animals by not using pesticides and herbicides in your garden. These chemicals can harm wildlife, so it’s best to avoid them altogether. Even your choice of household cleaners, which often end up in the eco-system, is important. Our SaltyLama eco-friendly detergent strips, for example, are 100 percent plastic-free and free of harsh chemicals, which makes them a kind choice for the environment — and our animal friends.