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Over the Garden Fence

Preparing for feathered and furry winter visitors (both invited and uninvited)

How do you handle wildlife in your yard? Do you welcome the birds, squirrels, and other critters, or do all you can to discourage them from visiting? If you are a birder, you can expect to see four-legged critters visiting often too.

The bird feeder and open water are just as appealing to squirrels, raccoons, and others, as it is to our feathered friends. Visiting birds will feed in a variety of ways. Some will perch and feed directly out the feeder, being neat and tidy. Others will sort through the birdseed and dried fruits, scattering what they do not want on to the ground below. That may not necessarily be bad, since other birds are ground feeders and appreciate the fact that food is now available. The birdseed on the ground and in the grass also becomes a meal for squirrels and others.

If you are not an avid birder and are thinking about feeding our feathered friends this winter, understand that you should start before the cold weather gets here so they know there will be food all winter. It is best not to stop until next spring. With that comes the commitment and understanding that you also will have visitors besides the birds, at different times during the day and night, big and small.

You can go through many pounds of birdseed in a season if you use a generic feeder. There are many styles of feeders that are been designed to allow only certain birds to feed using a particular kind of seed. There also are feeders designed to regulate how many birds can feed at a time. These will close based on the weight of the birds (or a crafty critter) to help protect seed waste.

What you feed also influences the birds that will visit your feeder. The multipurpose birdseed mix will attract the most birds, but likely leave you with the most mess on the ground. Read the label to find out what kind of seed and percentage of those seeds is in the bag before you buy it. It will take a while to attract your favorite birds if you have not had a feeder before or if you are in a newer neighborhood were natural shelter is lacking.

Even if you are not feeding birds this winter, those furry friends will show up from time to time anyway. Raccoons seem to develop a route to cover as they search for a winter meal. Your yard may not offer up anything, but they will pass through anyway on their way to the next destination and possibly get sidetracked if they see something they believe might be a meal. Squirrels will find food elsewhere and come into your yard to bury it as long as the temperatures allow before the soil freezes. Then, they will come back all winter long digging under the snow looking for those treasures.

The bottom line is this – you will get visitors to your yard regardless, more if you feed the birds.

Want to know more about the animal visitors in your yard? Learn more about Illinois wildlife here.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.