Feeding wildlife during winter

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deer during winter

Winter brings many obstacles for humans and wildlife alike. Luckily for us we can go get warm in our houses and cook up a hot meal after a long day in the cold.

Wildlife, on the other hand, does not have that luxury.

All species of wildlife in Ohio are made for the type of environment we have and have adapted over time to survive even in the coldest of winters. Specific needs change for different wildlife as well.

Migrating

When you look at how the birds migrate through the winter we see a theme, especially with waterfowl. Many times, migrating waterfowl only go as far south as they need to go, based on food and available open water.

Historically, Ohio was forest and wetlands, which has greatly changed by agriculture and channelization of rivers and streams. These factors affect how wildlife use the landscape in ways we do not even realize.

With the river systems and waste grain in fields, we now have a recipe for wintering waterfowl instead of just being a migration pit stop.

For some of the terrestrial wildlife, life can be much harder during these cold months. Most of the hard and soft mast is either gone or covered in snow.

Finding food

Browse is a very important type of feeding behavior that many terrestrial animals use in hard times of the year. Whitetail, for example, often browse new growth twigs from the past summer as well as remnant grasses.

Again, our agricultural landscape helps combat some of the food availability issues with leftover grain that all sorts of wildlife can take advantage of.

One topic that many people have issues with, whether good or bad, is supplemental feeding during hunting seasons. I’m not talking about food plots because that is a great way to provide wildlife with food and cover.

Artificially providing food for wildlife such as corn piles can be very detrimental to wildlife of all varieties.

If you go through November, December and January dumping corn to attract wildlife for hunting, then after the season ends and the cold comes the corn stops.

The potential for wildlife to become dependent on that is a lot higher due to the harsh conditions.

Once dependent, many species of wildlife stop searching for other sources of food and in-turn this can cause malnutrition, loss of natural habits, and in extreme cases death.

Habitats

Overall it is vital to provide our wildlife with suitable habitat for year-round use and not just for hunting seasons. We can modify habitat in ways where false sources of food are not necessary. Wildlife is wild and should be treated as such.

Suitable habitat is the best recipe for healthy wildlife and successful outdoor recreation as well.

Next time you are out and about on your farm or land, see what areas certain wildlife use and what food sources they rely on at different times of the year, then try to provide more of that for them.

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Billy Wilson is the Forestry/Wildlife Technician for the Harrison Soil and Water Conservation District. He grew up in rural Carroll County and attended Hocking College where he graduated with an Associates of Applied Science in Wildlife Resources Management. During his time at Hocking he worked with Wayne National Forest in their Invasive Species Program as an Intern, with the focus on Non-native invasive plant and tree species that are common to Ohio.

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