Give me shelter.
Kathryn A. Kahler
It may be too late in the season to start thinking about providing winter shelter for your furred and feathered friends, but it's a perfect time to get a head start on planning for next winter. For do-it-yourselfers, there's no shortage of plans online for shelters and houses. So dig out those safety glasses and fire up the table saw – your heart will be warmed by the experience.
Birds that overwinter in our climate zone are specially adapted to fight the cold. They fluff up multiple layers of feathers to insulate their tiny bodies, have circulatory systems that cut heat loss in their legs and feet, and shiver to maintain body temperature. Small birds like chickadees, nuthatches, juncos and woodpeckers crowd together to share and conserve body heat, especially at night. In natural settings, they seek out hollow tree cavities or dense evergreens during winter storms, but those can be few and far between in many urban and suburban neighborhoods.
You can help by erecting roost boxes on your property. If youíre a member of a neighborhood association, why not suggest this as a joint winter project?
If youíre an old hand at birdhouse construction, here are some things youíll want to consider in designing your own roost box:
Now that youíve found a way to help your feathered friends through the winter, why stop there? Lots of small critters would benefit year-round from wildlife brush shelters you can easily construct in a corner of your yard, or scatter throughout your rural property.
Chipmunks, rabbits, turtles, lizards, toads, juncos and sparrows are but a few of the species you can attract with a few basic materials. Find a place in your yard thatís at least partially sunny so wildlife can bask. If your property is large enough, try to position it between two kinds of habitat to attract the most wildlife. Plan on a shelter about 10 feet across and five feet high if you can spare the room.
Start with a base of large logs several feet long, stacked and crisscrossed, and interspersed with a few old pipes or downspout sections. Small mammals, toads and snakes will use them as tunnels. Pile stones and scatter rocks around the perimeter for animals to bask in the sun.
Next, add several layers of branches of gradually smaller diameter and plant native vines to intertwine and provide flowers and fruits. Songbirds and butterflies will flutter and perch among them. Top it off with evergreen branches to provide added shelter from winter snow and ice.
Of course, not everyone may be as thrilled with visiting wildlife as you are, so check community and neighborhood regulations before getting started. You may also want to be sure your neighbors donít mind.
For more complete instructions, check out Rabbitat: Brush Piles for Wildlife.
Kathryn A. Kahler writes from Madison.