Northern Cardinal - Photo Earl Harrison

If you’re anything like me, you’ve always wanted to spread holiday cheer to all creatures in the world. As a child I would sit and look out at the animals from the living room window and wonder why they didn’t get holiday gifts too.

As I involved myself in the studies of the natural world I learned that little human actions can build up huge chances. You can choose to use your holidays to make sure our native animals have a safe place to eat, live, and take shelter. It doesn’t take much to extend a helping hand to plants and animals during the winter months and who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired to spread holiday cheer to all who can hear.

Spend a little less energy and no money by leaving most of the garden tools in the shed. Spread leaves around your garden bed in two to three inch layers to support healthy soil and hiding spaces for small animals that might need a cozy spot in the cold winter months. Instead of chopping up branches and twigs, make a brush pile in an out-of-the-way corner of your property.  Ground-nesting birds, rabbits, chipmunks, and hibernating reptiles and amphibians will choose your brush pile for their winter shelter.

Leaving dead plants and flowers in your garden will support those animals by providing food while they wait out the winter. Don’t forget to double check your yard to make sure it’s safe for the wildlife you’re inviting in! If you hang holiday lights, attach them firmly instead of letting them drape, and place snowflakes and other decorations 4 inches apart on any window to prevent bird strikes.

When you’re baking for the holidays, don’t stop with yourself! You can put together some jolly bird seed ornaments that will feed non-migratory bird residents while still looking lovely on your tree. Fill your yard with all sorts of homemade feeders, including dried sunflower heads, corn on the cob, peanut and bird seed covered pinecones, and a halved pumpkin. An easy-to-access basket of straw, dried grass, or even dog hair can make a nice liner for a winter den.

When you’re checking on your ornaments and other feeders, remember to check your bird bath too! It’s easy to forget, but birds and other wildlife need access to fresh, unfrozen water in the winter. Check your bird bath and break up any frozen ice, or install a bird bath heater during the coldest months of the year to keep wildlife hydrated, clean, and happy year-round.

Who says giving has to stop after the holidays? If your family puts up a Christmas tree, pick an uncut tree you can plant after the holiday season! Or, if you choose a cut tree, set it in your brush pile and it’ll become a safe cozy habitat until it decomposes.

Winter is also the perfect time to focus on your spring planting. The foolproof way to ensure that your yard is a haven for wildlife is to plant native plants and allow them to grow and spread around your lawn. By the time next year’s winter comes along, your yard will be the perfect place for non-migratory animals to thrive during the winter months.