Winter Wildlife Protection

Posted: December 22, 2011

Many of the gifts we receive during the holiday season are to keep us warm during the harsh winter. Fleece, scarves, gloves, and flannel give us protection.

Hot cocoa, soothing tea, a bountiful meal with friends and family provide comfort and sustenance. As winter grows longer, the deeper we go into our homes for shelter. The other kind of Pennsylvania residents, the wildlife among us, don’t have such things.

These animals have three options: migrate, hibernate, or stay active. Those that are active face dire circumstances. The same frigid cold, blowing winds, cold rain, snow and ice we face every day. Some of which may keep us from work, social times, and school, but our little friends face as well with little or no comfort.

Their only recourse is to find quality habitat which make the difference between perishing or surviving until spring. Some animals find protection in rock walls, brush piles, downed wood, or underground. For many though, evergreens often provide the best winter, or thermal, cover. Pines, hemlocks, spruces, and even rhododendrons protect birds and other mammals from the wind, snow and ice, as they keep their leaves and needles throughout the winter.

It is common for example to find black-capped chickadees taking refuge in conifer foliage with their heads tucked under their wings to conserve energy. Ruffled grouse, woodcocks, and wild turkey, and rabbits will seek refuge there too.

For the homeowner, there are a few things to consider not doing right now. Keep low hanging branches of evergreens, especially if they touch the ground. These are valuable places of protection. Consider keeping bunches of ornamental grasses too. They tend to stay upright and in clumps providing a good source of shelter. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to remove brush piles either. What you can do is take a few moments in the dead of winter to look for signs of life. Appreciate what you have to keep you warm and look for ways to sustain our outside friends.

The Penn State Master Gardeners have the free publication “Landscaping for Wildlife: Trees, Shrubs, and Vines” call 570-963-6842 or email us at for a copy.

Steve Ward
Master Gardener Coordinator
Penn State Cooperative Extension in Lackawanna County