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Winter is for the birds! And other wildlife too…

By: Victoria Badham, Education & Outreach Manager, Toronto Wildlife Centre

Winter is right around the corner; as the snow begins to fall and the days grow darker, the flora and fauna in our neighbourhoods make their seasonal adjustments to make it through the coldest season. But make no mistake, you can still take action to protect and enhance your #BackyardBiodiversity this winter!

Photo credit: Ann Brokelman. In winter, black-capped chickadees eat about half seeds, berries, and other plant matter, and half animal food! (

While many of our feathered friends have already migrated south, plenty of bird species remain in the Greater Toronto Area for the winter. Help provide a natural food source for them by leaving plants standing rather than cutting back, especially those that provide seed – like coneflower, black-eyed susan, sunflower and common juniper. Winterberry holly and nannyberry can also provide fruit.

This purple finch was admitted to Toronto Wildlife Centre on December 2nd with a bad case of conjunctivitis. Cleaning bird feeders properly minimizes the spread of disease.

While providing a natural food source is the best option for birds, bird feeders remain common in our yards but can present problems. As birds, and other animals, gather closer than they normally would, the spread of disease becomes more prevalent – such as conjunctivitis – a disease of the eye that can lead to blindness. If you choose to use a bird feeder, make sure to empty it regularly and wash it out with hot soapy water and rinse thoroughly.

While window strikes occur more often during spring and fall migration, reflective surfaces are a threat to birds year-round; find out how to make your home and yard bird-safe by visiting

Placement of bird feeders in relation to windows is also very important to avoid collisions. The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) recommends placing bird feeders less than a half metre (< 2’) or closer from your windows. Over this short distance, birds cannot build up enough momentum to injure themselves should they hit a window. The closer to your window the better! Placing visual markers on the outside of your window can make an even bigger difference in mitigating bird window strikes. And this applies not just to homes; glass apartment balconies and windows can pose risks to birds as well.

This snowy owl was admitted to TWC last winter after colliding with a balcony window. Assistant Wildlife Manager Ashley examines the eyes for ulcers – a common injury after a window strike.

Of course, your bird-friendly efforts may go to waste if you let your cat outdoors. Pet cats are responsible for killing millions of birds each year. Cats are at risk if left outside unattended as well – they face the possibility of disease, car strikes, fighting with other domestic and wild animals, and exposure to the elements. Keep our furred and feathered friends safe this winter; keep Fluffy warm and happy indoors.

With proper stimulation, cats can be content indoors. For ideas on how to safely escort your cat outdoors, and more information on this issue, visit

There are also plenty of wild animals that you shouldn’t see this winter – snakes, turtles, and bats should be in hibernation or torpor. Digging and excavating can cause damage to tree roots, as well as unearth snakes and turtles. Repairs to roofs or other areas where bats may roost can cause them to emerge too early. If you find one of these animals, they must be transferred to a wildlife rehabilitator immediately.

Between November and April, bats should be in a state of torpor. When found outside, they are at risk due to freezing temperatures and using up their fat stores before spring arrives – a life-threatening situation. This bat was admitted to TWC on December 3rd after it was found clinging to a brick wall and will remain in care until spring.

Once you’v e made your home and yard safe for wildlife this winter, it’s time to start planning ways to enhance your #BackyardBiodiversity next spring! It’s a great time to prune existing trees, as you won’t have to worry about nests and wild babies, however, watch out for cavity roosters, like owls, that may be taking refuge in the tree. Keep in mind that pruning mature trees can be difficult and risky so it’s best to use a reliable, trustworthy tree care company.

Screech owls are extremely camouflaged when perched in crevices of trees. Cut carefully when pruning and only after close inspection of the tree trunk and branches.

Planting trees, shrubs and native plant gardens are great ways to create safe and healthy habitat for many species of wildlife. This winter, get cozy, curl up with a hot cup of tea, and explore the wide array of species that can contribute toward #BackyardBiodiversity in your outdoor space. Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests (LEAF) is a great resource; their expert staff can advise you on the best options for your space. No matter how big or small your outdoor area may be, we can all make a bit more room for biodiversity!

Victoria Badham is the Education & Outreach Manager at Toronto Wildlife Centre, a charitable wildlife rehabilitation centre dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of sick, injured and orphaned wild animals.