Vol. 5 Issue 4, Fall 2000
By Patty Selly
During the cooler and sometimes stormy nights of autumn and winter, birds and small mammals will naturally seek out places to “hunker down.” In the wild, the birds would head toward thick tangles of honeysuckle and greenbrier, or they’d find cavities in dead trees. Rodents like mice and gray and flying squirrels would look for tree cavities, abandoned nests, empty bird houses, and wood piles near homes. Rabbits will look for thick brushy areas and holes in wood. Snakes will seek out natural rock piles, mulch piles, or hollow logs to hibernate in.
You can provide shelter in the form of roosting boxes or platforms, or even simple brush shelters and rock piles. For purchase, there are elaborately decorated pre-made wooden roosting boxes for birds, ladybugs, butterflies, and bats. From what I have heard, success with these is somewhat limited. I lean toward the natural (read: cheap and easy!) when providing shelter for wildlife. Rather than buying structures and putting them up at my house, I use what’s available: my yard is full of brush and sticks, and rocks of all sizes.
Any time I clear a portion of land or do some tree-trimming, I gather the sticks and brush and stack it all loosely near the edge of my yard. I try to leave larger holes at the bottom, and gradually add smaller pieces to the pile, making sure to leave holes of various sizes at different levels and places throughout. Small mammals and birds will use the brush shelter. If properly done, it will offer hiding places and a sheltered spot to take cover during inclement weather. During the spring it makes a fine nesting site, as well.
Anyone who has dug a garden bed or planted a tree in Loudoun County probably has a stockpile of rocks collected from the ground. Try stacking and arranging the pile so it is sturdy and offers lots of entry and exit spaces. Snakes may use your rock pile as a place to hibernate, so if you do construct a rock shelter, please do not disturb it until spring. In the spring, the rock pile stays nice and cool, and is usually a good place to find salamanders and even a toad or two, if you’re lucky.
Place any shelter well away from your home, as even the nicest brush shelter pales in comparison to a warm, food-filled house in the winter! If there is any entry point into your home, be assured the critters will find it!
There are a few things wildlife simply can not exist without: food, water, shelter, and space. Providing food, water, and shelter, can be easy to do. As for space…contact your local district supervisor on that one.
To find native plants and the species that benefit from them, check out our Gardening for Wildlife Plant List.