Help winter wildlife with tips from Hope for Wildlife

Updated: January 27, 2020

Great horned owl sits in a birch tree in winter cindylindowphotography/shutterstock

“Life is tough for nature in the winter,” says Hope Swinimer, founder and director of Hope for Wildlife. Wondering how you can help wildlife stay safe in the cold months? Here are four simple things you can do:

1. Keep your eyes open the road: “One of the big reasons we get owls brought in in the winter is car collisions,” says Hope. Mice live under the snow in the winter, and when there’s lots of snow on the ground, it’s harder to hunt mice, so the owls are hungry. “But when mice do cross road, owls are waiting for them. And that’s when collisions happen.” And with their minds on the prey that might fill their empty bellies,”they’re not as likely as to pay attention to the roads as when food is plentiful.” So what can you do? Be particularly careful at dawn and dusk when lots of corpuscular animals are active. “Slow down 5-10 km. Or drive with a buddy and get them to scan sides of roads,” advises Hope.

2. Watch your pets: “When people let their dogs run, it may not hunt down a deer and kill it but may chase it,” explains Hope. “Calories are so precious in the winter, that might be enough to put the deer over the edge, to stress it. And that may make the difference in whether it survives or not.” And its not just dogs that should be kept under control. Cats that are let outdoors are thought to be responsible for major declines in bird populations, since even a scratch or bite can introduce can introduce bacteria found in cat saliva that causes lethal infections.

3. Make food reliable for the birds: If you have been enjoying having birds at your feeder all fall and winter, don’t stop suddenly. “Don’t go away and leave their food empty for the week. They rely on the food source and then when you go away they are left without,” says Hope. “Instead of a feeder, next year plan to plant native shrubs and indigenous berry trees, which provide shelter and food.” Sharp shinned hawks, also called feeder hawks, are known to nab other birds when they come in to eat at a feeder out in the open. A better bet for helping profide food in safety, Hope says, is “natural trees and bushes with berries.”

4. Provide habitat: People in the local community donated their Christmas trees to Hope For Wildlife in January as a way of helping create habitat for the rescue animals. “The trees will act as shelter for nature, giving wildlife a place to next under. Animals can nibble on the trees, and they provide shelter for songbirds, weasels, and squirrels,” explains Hope. She notes that not all municipalities allow you to do this with your trees. (And of course if you got your tree in the city, you’ll want to be sure you’re not moving invasive pests into your cottage forest.) If your holiday decorations are long gone, or disposing of trees this way is not allowed where you are, there are other options for creating habitat—ones that require you to do less work “tidying up” at your cottage property. Leave fallen trees to rot where they fall, and as the old advice goes, let “sleeping logs lie” at the shoreline. “On a big lawn,” Hope says, “a dead tree can be a buffer area to let animals just get to next stop.”

Hope Swinimer is the founder and director of Hope for Wildlife, which is a charitable wildlife rehabilitation and education organization located in Seaforth, Nova Scotia. Hope and her colleagues at Hope for Wildlife are the focus of the Cottage Life TV show Hope For Wildlife. Thousands of visitors come for guided tours of the facilty and their wildlife helpline helps over 20,000 callers each year. Since 1997, the centre has rescued, rehabilitated, and released over 40,000 injured and orphaned wild animals representing over 250 species.

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