My mother has been feeding and watching wild birds, squirrels, chipmunks, ducks, possums, raccoons, and any other sort of small wild animal native to Ohio for as long as I can remember. We moved to Ohio from Florida when I was still a kid, and she took to the wildlife here like a duck to water. In fact, speaking of ducks, a pair of ducks started visiting her yard a couple of years ago from parts unknown but there is no body of water anywhere near Mom’s yard. So, viola, a kiddie pool appears in the yard. I thought she was crazy when she told me she put a pool out for the ducks, I thought they would be scared of it, but sure enough they got in and swam happily in the now duck pool. Since then they have become repeat guests, flying in the same time each year. Backyard bird watching is something I grew up with. Thanks to my Mom I can identify many types of native bird on sight, as well as recognize their calls when I can’t see them. This knowledge has been very handy on backpacking and hiking trips, entertaining and amusing my companions. Mom is a seasoned expert on feeding wildlife and birds, especially during winter months.
From my Mom’s cold weather bird and wild animal feeding playbook:
- Feed as much variety as possible. Suet is especially helpful to birds in winter due to the high fat and oil content, but sunflower seed, peanuts, and fruits will all be loved by the animals. There is even a great product that makes adding some of these things to your variety easy, and it is called Squirrel & Critter Blend. You can also buy seed and peanuts in bulk, mom often does this and she stores the bird seed and peanuts in large metal trash cans, but not everyone has the room for that sort of thing. Smaller amounts of seed and outdoor food are often much more manageable for the average back yard bird enthusiast.
- If you want to attract “regulars” (i.e. an albino squirrel Mom used to have visit every day) then get into a regular routine with your feeding. Feed the same time every day if possible, so that the local birds and animals can learn when to come calling. If an animals knows the same time every day in that location food will be available, they won’t be off scavenging elsewhere at that time and you will be sure to see your daily regulars. You might even end up assigning them names for fun, which can often get children in the home to help with the feeding and watching, because they look for “Bandit” or “Mr. Squeak” to come eat each day.
- Feed in the same place each day, and make sure that area doesn’t have someplace for a potential predator to hide easily. While providing ground cover is great for chipmunks and maybe squirrels, it also gives a place for the neighborhood cats to hide and stalk prey. Feeding in the same place every day in winter is often more important than doing it in the summer so that animals and birds have to spend less time out in the exposed elements searching for food.
- Lastly from mom’s backyard winter routine, is provide water whenever possible. During the winter, unfrozen water can be very hard to find at times for birds and small animals. If you use a bird bath heater, you can keep a small amount of water thawed in all but the most severe cold. My mother uses a large drainage saucer intended for flower pots to keep this water in and she places it on the ground so that all of her animals can easily reach it.