7 Ways to Help Wildlife in the New Year

Frosty snow will soon be on the ground and covering the branches of leafless trees. While we snuggle warmly in our homes, animals will be scurrying about, trying to survive the harsh winter up ahead. Here are some resolutions you can make to help our wildlife friends have a happy 2016.

1. Keep your cats and wildlife safe.

While your cat may want to explore the great outdoors, it's always the season to keep her safe indoors. When cats are left to freely roam outdoors, they are at risk of contracting deadly diseases, getting injured by other animals and being hit by cars. Outdoor cats may also put wildlife at risk, as even well-fed cats can exhibit instinctive predatory behavior. So what can you do to keep your companion animals and wildlife safe? Cats can live healthy and fulfilling lives indoors when provided with enough stimulation and enrichment- so take time to play with your cat daily. If you want to provide your cat with some time outside, consider training your cat to walk with a harness and leash, or build her a secure outdoor enclosure or "catio."

2. Water, water everywhere, not any drop to drink.

Water in the form of frozen snow and shiny ice may cover the ground, but in these winter months it can be difficult for wildlife to find a drink. To help them out, provide a reliable water source such as a heated bird bath. Channel solar energy to your advantage, by placing the water source on the south side of your property, exposed to the sun and protected from wind, but open to wildlife. Be sure to rinse and refill the bird bath with fresh water regularly.

3. This land is our land... but the house is all mine.

While the land is shared by both you and wildlife, the best way to keep peace is to maintain boundaries. In other words, wildlife-proof your house. Close off and seal potential entries by using caulk for small holes where appropriate and metal screens and steel wire mesh to ensure the various vents on your home are protected against animal intrusion. There may be occasions when repairs of larger openings need to be made; in this case heavier gauge wire mesh or aluminum flashing may be used. Be sure, however, that all animals are out before you seal up any holes. Test all potential entry holes by putting a "soft plug" of newspaper inside – if the paper stays in place for 48 hours then vacancy can be assumed. Find humane solutions to all of your conflicts with wildlife at wildneighbors.org.

4. Try a little humane-ness.

Find humane approaches to solving any problems you may have with wildlife. If you have a raccoon in your chimney or a squirrel in your attic, use The Humane Society of the United States' humane tips to resolve your wildlife conflict. If you need professional help, choose a company that will resolve your problem for the long term without harming the animals. A humane company should utilize species-specific eviction strategies and take steps to wildlife proof the home as part of the service.

5. Setting the table for your wild neighbors.

Wildlife in winter will commonly face shortages of food and supplies. Providing them with fruit-bearing native plants, trees and shrubs, could literally be a matter of life and death at a time of scarcity. Now that the holidays are over, it's a good time to peruse native gardening websites and other resources in search of indigenous fruit and nut bearing trees and shrubs to plant so that your backyard can provide for your wild neighbors in the many years to come.

6. One man's trash... is a critter's home.

Wild animals are only as safe as where they live. Help keep your wild neighbors safe and protected with a brush pile they can call home. Got a Christmas tree to retire? Place it in a suitable spot in your yard, adding to it tree limbs and twigs, flower stalks and leaves to form a pile. Continue adding to it all year long to create shelter and cover for ground nesting birds, reptiles and amphibians, chipmunks, rabbits and other small mammals. If you don't have a place for a brush pile, then consider other forms of housing in the way of bird, bat and bee houses.

7. I pledge allegiance to... a humane backyard.

Whether you have an apartment balcony, suburban lawn, or acres of forest, you can make your green space a safe haven for wildlife. Stop using dangerous chemicals and don't set inhumane traps. Maintain an animal friendly lifestyle with these tips, so that you can help wildlife all year long. Learn more about these tips and others here.