Posted on December 13, 2018 at 11:23 AM by Kara Fleming
It could be tempting to feed wildlife during the cold winter months. It may feel like an act of kindness but in reality, it is a disservice to the animal. Here are a few reasons why:
Wildlife adapts to the changing seasons
Mother Nature has provided animals the ability to continue to thrive throughout the cold months. In many cases, an animal's GI tract changes to allow them to eat what is available. Deer, for instance, go through digestive changes so they can eat twigs and bark. Feeding a deer more nutrient-dense food during the winter months can be detrimental to the animal's health.
Wildlife will naturally move to a location where food sources are readily available
When a food source has been depleted, animals will move on to a new area, sometimes miles away. When animals are artificially fed by humans, it can cause crowding and they will stay in the area longer. This can result in the spread of diseases, as well as increase the chances of fighting and injuries between animals.
Feeding wildlife will habituate them to humans
This can cause the animals to lose their natural fear, which can lead them to become a nuisance as they learn to look to humans for food handouts. In some cases, it can also become a public safety risk.
If you do choose to set out bird feeders for the winter, remember that they have the potential to attract coyotes and bears, as well. An alternative to feeders could be a heated bird bath. More birds suffer from dehydration in the winter than hunger. They also use the water to fluff up their feathers and increase their natural insulation.
How you can help
Rest assured that our native New England wildlife has adapted to become well-situated to surviving the winters. If you would like to help them bunker down for the season, consider allowing your yard and gardens to grow long. Instead of cutting plants back, mowing grass, or raking leaves, create a winter habitat for animals to find refuge. There are a lot of great articles online describing the benefits and how-tos of creating backyard habitats with leaf and brush piles, with some being Pinterest-worthy.
Mulching or not raking leaves, as well as piling brush, logs, rocks, and other yard debris can really help small animals find a place to hide and stay warm. Birdhouses are also a great option as birds not only use them for nesting but also to get out from harsh weather. Planting indigenous bushes and trees is also very beneficial to wildlife, as these plants provide a natural food and nesting source. Conifers especially provide a natural thermal cover.