Field of Dreams
Wildlife needs help to prep for a long winter. Plant these native seed and fruit-bearing species in your garden to give them a hand!
There are a few different ways that wildlife can prepare for the winter. While some go into deep dormant states of hibernation, others escape the cold and migrate south. But what about those species that stay and brave the cold snap? Check out the species that make use of their innate survival skills, as well as Canadian habitat and vegetation!
A Cheeky Chow Down
Chipmunks (Tamias) make their homes underground by burrowing tunnels and chambers. Within these tunnels, they build nests of grasses, shredded leaves and other light materials. They eat nuts, seeds, berries and insects when supplies are plentiful, but in late July, chipmunks start to collect and store seeds and nuts to prep for winter. Efficient little critters, chipmunks pack their cheeks full of food, bring their stash back to their nests and store it in their complex tunnels. In November, chipmunks scurry down into their burrows and slip into a torpid state. In torpor, their heart and breathing rates drop; however, unlike hibernating animals, chipmunks don’t gain weight to survive the winter, opting instead to wake periodically for a nibble from their supply. Learn more about this little critter and get your very own copy of CWF’s Wild About Small Mammals poster.
A Stick-y Situation
In warmer temperatures, beavers (Castor canadensis) consume leaves, grasses, fruits and plants because of the overwhelming supply of growth around waterways. However, when cold weather sets in, they switch to branches and woods that they store away for the winter. Every fall, beavers harvest woody items like poplar, willow and birch branches to store for winter in a food cache below the water. The food cache is covered by a thick layer of small leafy branches resting above the water and providing insulation to prevent the branches below from freezing. During winter, the beaver will haul the branches into a separate feeding area within its den and gnaw on them. Beavers have also been known to eat the roots of pond lilies and cattails while foraging in their food stash.
The black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapilla) is another species that prepares for nippy temperatures by storing food. Come late summer, you might see the chickadee hoarding food in trees or behind pieces of bark. Food is most plentiful during this time, and the chickadee makes sure to utilize fruitful seeds, berries and insects by caching potentially hundreds of food items in a single day. Small birds like the chickadee eat plenty of food, which, if not used for energy, is stored as fat. These fat stores give the chickadee the ability to survive long, cold winter nights. Many also rely on seed and suet at birdfeeders to get through the winter. If you do decide to feed the birds, remember to keep your feeders topped up throughout the winter and well into spring. Visit Wild About Gardening to learn how to keep the birds in your backyard happy for the winter months.