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What is wildlife having for dinner this Christmas?

December 11, 2016
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

Fruits, seeds and dormant insects help keep many of our winter wildlife species alive. There are many different types of crab apple trees that are an important food source for birds, rabbits, raccoons, deer and many other animals. In the winter, there are usually a few apples remaining on the branches and rotting fruits covered with snow on the ground below that animals will find and eat. Crab apples make great places to perch providing birds necessary cover from overhead predators and yet the branches are open enough to allow sighting of approaching danger.

Dead trees are important in providing a spot to find dormant insects. Live trees provide deer and squirrels with twigs and bark when food begins to become scarce.

Wild barberry bushes hold their red berries throughout winter. This is great food source and the thorns provide an added benefit of protection. Juniper (our very own eastern red cedar) is another tree species which is heavily utilized in the winter by wildlife. The most essential role that the tree plays is habitat. The trees produce a purple colored female cone which is often called a berry. Finches, grosbeaks, and robins are just a few of the birds that feed on these. Over the course of a year, hundreds of wildlife species at some time use the juniper for a place of warmth, cover, nesting and food.

The vine, virginia creeper, is a colorful foliage addition to a backyard fence but also an important food source for birds with fruits that are persistent long into winter. Bittersweet is another vine that we think of as a colorful ornamental but you will find that it also is an important winter food source for wildlife.

And while we are thinking about backyard plantings, there is a really good reason for not clearing your flowerbeds of the dead material in the fall. Those flower stalks contain seed that is utilized by birds in the winter.

The highbush cranberry is one of the best wildlife plants found in many of our county parks and wildlife areas. A clump of dense cranberry plants can sustain quite a large population of wintering birds. The bright red fruits are consumed by a multitude of bird species including pheasants, wild turkeys, robins and cedar waxwings. Mammals like chipmunks, deer opossums, coyotes, skunks, mice and rabbits utilize this plant in winter also. The plant is dense enough to provide excellent cover from winter winds.

These are just a few of the plants you could consider planting next spring to help our winter wildlife next year.



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