Creating a Winter Sanctuary for Wildlife

Winter can feel like a boring time for pond owners and enthusiasts with most of the water features shut down to bear the cold and freezing temperatures. But attracting wildlife can breathe life into your pond and provide interaction and education for the whole family. Here are a few easy ways to draw wildlife to your water garden in the winter:

Make Shelters and Habitats

To help the creatures that dwell in and around your pond survive the cold weather, it is important to have a variety of wildlife-friendly areas in your garden that will provide them with shelter in the water and on land. Areas of longer grass, overgrown corners or piles of wood or stones, can offer vital protection for many creatures. These can range from a patch of loose earth, to a more substantial structure, often called a hibernaculum. You can put up birdhouses to give birds a place to escape the wind where they can perch at night. Rock piles can also serve as shelter around ponds and may already be a part of your pond design. You can loosely pile rocks and allow leaves to accumulate in and around the rock pile. Make sure to leave nooks, crannies, and tunnels to provide shelter, as well as access and escape routes. This can also provide a hiding place and warmth for ground-dwelling birds, frogs and toads, and small rodents such as chipmunks. Having a compost heap, or log pile in your garden can provide a perfect winter refuge for amphibians. Wood that is damp, or decomposing with higher moisture levels is recommended rather than drier wood.

Plant Shrubbery

Planting shrubs around the pond can give the environment a beautiful aesthetic but it also attracts wildlife by providing food and shelter. Wildlife often prefers white spruce and balsam fir for shelter. Evergreen shrubs also provide excellent shelter as well as decoration. American holly’s red berries can provide food and the plant offers a protective shelter for birds. Hardy rose bushes provide juicy, red rosehips, which are berries, in cold weather that attract deer as well as birds.

Provide Access to Drinking Water

Pond owners know that during winter it is important to keep water from freezing solid so that its inhabitants have an exchange of gases to keep water quality and oxygen levels high.  However, another reason is to provide drinking water for wildlife. Many wildlife species need water during winter, which can be in short supply during periods of freezing weather. Try to keep part of the pond unfrozen by using an aerator to prevent freezing.  You can also use a small floating pond-heating unit or a deicer. This will attract and benefit waterfowl, upland game birds, deer, and small mammals, as they will learn to use the open water source.

Have Food Available

During winter in harsh climates with lots of snow, sources of food can be scarce to find for wildlife. You can provide food for wildlife by hanging a traditional bird feeder by your pond or set out a shallow dish of food. Depending on the approach to feeding, you can draw chipmunks, squirrels, deer, and birds to your pond.

It’s good to keep in mind that high-fat foods are extremely useful in winter, and incorporate fatty seeds and grains like sunflower seeds, peanuts, and corn. You can also mix dried fruits, grains and nuts with leftover kitchen fats like bacon, sausage, or chicken fat cooled until solid.  You can smear it on your rock pile or food plate.

Following these guidelines will attract a variety of wildlife to your own backyard.  You will not only be able to view and observe new and beautiful types of life but also be providing safety, food, and shelter.