Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Winterizing for Wildlife

Pet Column for the week of November 15, 2004

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Kim Marie Labak
Information Specialist

Winter is fast approaching, and the wild animals around us are preparing for the hardships that may follow. As the weather gets colder, we may desire to step up our efforts to support and care for our backyard wild guests. Dr. Julia Whittington, veterinarian and director of the University of Illinois Wildlife Medical Clinic in Urbana, explains that although providing supplemental food and cover may be beneficial to wildlife, there are some factors to consider before attracting wild animals to your yard.

Bird feeders are a popular way to attract and support wildlife in your own backyard. During the winter, birds will become dependent upon a feeder as a source of food. Once you begin using a bird feeder, be sure to keep it full, especially during heavy snow cover. If this source suddenly becomes unavailable, birds expend valuable energy trying to find natural food sources.

To prevent the spread of disease, clean your bird feeders thoroughly and regularly. Remove organic debris, food, and bird droppings, wash the feeder with hot soapy water, and rinse well.

Providing a variety of foliage is another way to help wildlife survive the winter. Different animals use different environments for shelter, so layering your landscape by providing plants at varying heights can attract and provide shelter for a wide variety of wildlife. For example, squirrels are comfortable in tall trees, while rabbits prefer cover under shrubs and in tall grasses.

Some animals may attempt to take advantage of your hospitality by entering your home or eating your garbage. Dr. Whittington advises, "To prevent unwanted guests, winterize your home by repairing torn screens, placing mesh or screen over the chimney and window wells, and sealing other entryways that allow access to your home or garage. Keep food items and garbage in animal-proof containers so it does not lure animals. Avoid leaving food outside for your pets, as contact with wild animals may spread disease to your pets."

Winter is an excellent time to view wildlife in their natural setting, from Northern cardinals and cottontail rabbits to great-horned owls and bobcats. Providing food and cover in your yard can attract wild animals for your enjoyment, while keeping them at an appropriate distance.

For more information about wildlife, please visit the Web site of the Wildlife Medical Clinic at