Attracting Birds and Wildlife in Extreme Weather

From blizzards to heat waves we'll show you how to attract birds, bats and butterflies by turning your backyard into a sheltered haven.

Just like people, animals seek shelter during extreme weather. It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with a blizzard, lightning storm or heat wave—wild creatures need places to go. Providing this important component of habitat is a lot easier than you might think. Take a look at some of the ways you can help in your own backyard.

Start with Plants

The same native plants that provide food for wildlife in the form of berries, seeds, nuts and nectar will do double duty and provide shelter if you plant them densely. Evergreens are particularly valuable, since their foliage remains green year-round. Here’s a good rule of thumb: The more plants you have and the more densely you plant them, the more protection you’ll be providing for wildlife.

GINA FITZHUGH


Give Extra Attention to Shrubs

Imagine a bare expanse of lawn dotted with a few isolated shrubs—a typical landscape in lots of places. Not much shelter for wildlife, right? Now imagine those shrubs connected by patches of wildflowers, or even more shrubs, forming a living fence that animals can use as a safe hiding place or corridor through the otherwise open landscape.

Leave the Dead Trees

Sometimes providing shelter means simply protecting or enhancing mature plantings that are already there. If you have large trees in your yard, don’t remove them. Even better, add smaller understory trees and shrubs to take advantage of vertical space, creating layers of shelter. Dead and dying trees, called snags, are particularly important. As snags decay, they lose branches and cavities form. Add that to the holes woodpeckers excavate, and you could have all sorts of animals taking up residence.

Make a Brush Pile

Beyond your plantings, you can also assemble simple structures that wildlife will use for refuge. Brush piles mimic fallen woody debris found in natural areas; build them by lining up a series of parallel logs, then layering successively smaller branches on top. This will give you a domelike structure filled with spaces that wildlife as large as foxes and as small as mourning cloak butterflies will take advantage of.

Pile Up the Rocks

Attracting Birds and Wildlife in Extreme WeatherSteve and Dave Maslowski
Steve and Dave Maslowski Blue jay

You can do the same thing with rocks by stacking smaller stones on and around bigger ones to create mini-caves and crevices. Try doing this along your property line to make a rock wall. Just be sure to stack the rocks without using mortar, which would eliminate those valuable hiding places.

Put Up a Roosting Box

You can also buy or build special roosting boxes designed to provide instant shelter. These look like nesting boxes or birdhouses for birds, but they have entry holes toward the bottom to help the box retain heat in winter. They might even have perches on the inside to accommodate multiple animals. Some critter or another will use a roosting box in all seasons, including flying squirrels, tree frogs and songbirds like bluebirds, chickadees and titmice.

Support the Bat Population

A bat house is really just another kind of roosting box. Built and mounted properly, it will entice the little flying mammals to take up residence in your yard. Remember, you have nothing to fear from bats. And they’ll help control insect pests!

David Mizejewski
David Mizejewski is a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation.