Winter Wildlife Garden FAQ


I woke up this morning to discover that Mother Nature had dumped over 17 inches of snow on my Philadelphia wildlife garden. I stood out on the deck while the dogs went down to do their business, and while admiring the beautiful transformation of this snow-covered landscape, I pondered what I would write about today.

Several questions arose in my mind about how birds and other wildlife manage to survive through the snow storms. And it occurred to me that many of these questions have already been answered by some of our team members.

And so, I present for your reading pleasure The Winter Wildlife Garden FAQ:

DSCN0242What Do Birds Drink When The Birdbath Freezes? Wild birds need access to clean water all year round, but when winter temperatures dip into the freezing range, this may be harder to find. Birds can quench their thirst by eating snow, but this requires large amounts of energy which they need to keep themselves warm. So what’s a caring Ecosystem Gardener to do?

Where Do Butterflies Spend the Winter? Have you ever gazed out of the kitchen window at your beautiful wildlife garden on a cold winter’s day?  It looks so barren and lonely.  Have you ever wondered where the butterflies go during this time of year? As humans, we get to bundle up in our fuzzy flannels and spend the winter months indoors all snug in our homes, drinking hot chocolate. But what about the butterflies – our delicate winged wonders?

DSCN0246Can I put bread out for the birds to eat during the snow? Imagine if you took your small children to McDonald’s every day. They may get filled up with that food, but do you really think that’s providing all the nutrition your children need? It’s the same thing with birds. Bread is junk food for birds, providing very little nutritional value and very little in the way of energy to survive the winter in our wildlife gardens.

Where do pollinators go in winter? Do you ask yourself: where do pollinators go in winter? We see them through the warm seasons visiting flowers and doing their invaluable job. But, then what happens to them? Putting aside the few, such as hummingbirds and monarch butterflies, which fly to better climates, all the others find a secluded place to spend the cold months.

How do birds stay warm in winter? Winter is a harsh season for wildlife, but fortunately animal species have developed different behaviors and adaptations to help them survive the winter cold. Birds are no exception.

What to do for your garden in an ice storm? The weather forecast said “up to an inch of snow” but what we got was sleet, freezing rain, and hard little ice pellets one step removed from hail. The roads turned into a skating rink. The schools let out ten minutes after they let in. There was a run on bread, milk, and eggs, proving yet again that the Weather Gods can only be appeased through offerings of French Toast.* For ordinary mortals, this is obnoxious enough. For the wildlife gardener, however, an ice storm is fretful on multiple levels.

DSCN0249What do you need to do for your garden in winter? Last week I took my cat to the vet and the nice receptionist, who after a newspaper article about moi this summer found out that I gardened, asked me what a gardener does to a garden for winter. I said a gardener does nothing.

Do I need to wrap my shrubs in burlap for the winter? Last month,  before we had any snow (now we have about a foot!) I started to notice something that I notice every winter since I moved to upstate NY over 10 years ago…  Shrubs wearing clothes! No, I’m not crazy. Many arborvitae in the area have burlap wraps on for the winter months.  And other foundation shrubs are covered by burlap, A-frames, or a combination of the two.

How does wildlife survive the cold, wet, and wind of winter? So, you might be asking “Is there anything we can do to help give shelter from the storm?”  Well, I would say that answer is “Yes!” While most of our wildlife friends don’t live in houses like us, they do have their own form of dwellings, even if some of them are temporary.  Some types of shelter include…

More tips for birds in the winter wildlife garden? Many people are surprised when I talk about all the activity in my wildlife garden in winter. For them, everything is dead, all the plants are dormant, and there is nothing to see. How wrong they are! When you plan your wildlife garden, it’s always good to keep winter in mind so that you can provide food and shelter for your local birds and other wildlife to help them survive until the spring renewal in your Ecosystem Garden.

Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.

© 2014, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Join the Wren Song Community

Wren Winter Singing crop

Free Exclusive Content and Member's Forum

Sign up for a free membership in the Wren Song Community and you'll have access to a lot more valuable information published exclusively for our members.

Meet other passionate wildlife gardeners from around the country. Share your successes. Learn from your failures. Discover the best resources to help you create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your gardens with native plants so that you will attract more birds, butterflies, native pollinators, and other wildlife to your garden.

Learn more about the Wren Song Community


  1. Marilyn says

    Here I sit waiting for my birdbath bowl to thaw. No snow here, but it’s 9 degrees this a.m. Typically on below freezing days, I’ll thaw the birdbath water several times throughout the day. On really cold ones,
    I take an old dog dish in and out and set that on the frozen bowl with warm water—easier to manage than hauling the bowl into the kitchen, which I did do today. Sometimes I get lots of birds, but not always. I never realized robins flock together for the winter until a group of them came all at once one day. Starlings—well, we knew about them already, didn’t we? My bird bath is an equal-opportunity operation, though after a group of starlings, I typically have to change the water. When I have gotten around late, I have had birds sitting on the frozen bird bath waiting for water. I have also found birds sitting on the deck looking in the window as if asking, “What’s taking so long?”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge