Fall EarthCare: Preparing Habitat for Bats, Birds + Wildlife Over Winter
Updated: Oct 26, 2022
Winter is coming in the Mid-Atlantic bioregion. Have you prepared habitat for the winged ones? Read our simple, actionable EarthCare tips to support bats, birds and beneficial insects in your landscape as winter arrives.
Why Care About Building Habitat?
On a practical level, building habitat for wildlife is a smart investment. Beneficial insects, pollinators and natural pest predators all serve a function in the ecosystem. Your gardens and landscape will benefit from their presence, ensuring that your native plants will thrive.
Besides helping your own bottom line, the benefits of supporting wildlife in your landscape are almost too many to count. We’re here talking about EarthCare because we want to interact with Nature in beneficial ways, offer support, and be mindful of the other beings we share space with.
→ Read More: Building Habitat for Wildlife - What’s In It For Us?
Photo: Little Brown Bat Clinging To Tree Trunk
Welcoming Bats + Why They’re Important
Did you know? Bats are one of the most effective natural predators of mosquitoes! While bats in the northeast feed exclusively on insects, bats in other parts of the world are also important pollinators.
There are lots of fear-inducing myths about bats floating around, but we encourage you to learn about the bats native to your region. In most cases, you don’t have to worry about aggressive bats, bites, rabies, or any of the creepy things that may have given you a fear of bats. For a deep dive on the types of bats present in Pennsylvania, and their characteristics, explore this article from the PA Game Commission.
Heads Up: Somes bats are also protected by federal law, so it’s absolutely essential to contact a qualified professional if you think you have bats in your home. It is illegal to kill them! This article about a very cute but very endangered species found in Pennsylvania brings to light how much human effort can make a difference in these highly valued flying mammals lives, and our own.
What To Do for Bats in Fall + Winter
In our region, bats will either be migrating south for food sources, or hibernating for winter. Most hibernating bats will be in caves, or places like abandoned mines. Bat houses are not likely to be used by hibernating bats over winter, but now is still a great time to set up a quality bat house, and make sure your landscape has supportive bat habitat in place. That way, when bats return from hibernation in spring, they’ll be comfortable and well supported in your landscape, and spend more time sharing their many benefits with your gardens. Win-win!
How To Support Bats and Build Habitat
Learn about our bat species, their roosting habits, and the basics of bat box design in this article from PSU Extension.
Learn about other habitat features you can provide (food + water), plus a step-by-step guide for building a simple bat house, from National Wildlife Federation.
Learn what makes a good bat house from BatBnB. *Note: LadyBug EarthCare is not affiliated with BatBnb, and does not profit from sharing their website. We do find them reputable, and if you want to purchase a pre-made bat house, these look good! Bat expert Merlin Tuttle is one of their advisors, and you can read his in-depth article about selecting a quality bat house here. Or build your own!
Photo: Two Dark-Eyed Juncos Perched on a Branch Together
Building Habitat for Birds
Scary Fact: “More than half of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s state-listed endangered and threatened species in Pennsylvania are birds. Four bird species are threatened and 16 are endangered in the state. Most of these species have been on the list since it was created in the 1970s. Experts are taking steps to protect these endangered and threatened birds.
“Our focus is trying to maintain the habitat that supports these birds and then minimize the negative interactions between people and the birds,” Patti Barber, an endangered bird specialist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission said.” Source.
That’s where we come in, with a mission to encourage healthy interactions between you and the birds that visit your landscape!
There are many species of birds who stick around for the winter in our Mid-Atlantic bioregion. Discover these cold-hardy birds here. Learning the songs of native birds is a wonderful way to observe + interact with Nature where you live, practice expanding your senses, and learn what birds can tell you about the environment.
→ Try the Merlin app for birdsong ID!
Birds who stay over winter in our region will need food sources, which become scarce in cold months. Leave the seedheads of your native plants in the garden, and consider some of these tips:
Use winter months to plan your future gardens! How and where can you add more native plants to build habitat, provide shelter + ensure more food sources for wildlife in the future?
Leave as much habitat in place as you can! Let the gardens be. Leave the leaves where they fall. Ground nesting birds are more threatened than other species by the constant disturbance of soil, primarily in farmlands, but also all across most landscapes.
When cleanup is necessary, rake leaves under shrubs, or into beds to build soil. Begin composting yard debris. If you’re ready, take on a sheet mulching project to remove grass and create a garden bed as a future wildlife sanctuary.
Plant bird-friendly native shrubs and trees in fall. Dogwoods, elderberries, chokeberries, winterberries and elderberries are some native favorites.
Consider adding a birdfeeder and a source of water. Here are some tips for how to feed birds safely in winter from Audubon Society.
Many birds are also migrating south for the winter, and just like we do for bats (who hibernate locally instead), now is a great time to build bird houses, ready to welcome returning birds in spring.
How To Support Birds and Build Habitat
Learn how to build houses for all kinds of birds with NestWatch (Cornell Lab of Ornithology).
Learn how to welcome winter birds to your yard with Audubon Society.
Photo: Biodiverse Native Plant Garden Providing Winter Insect Habitat
Winter Habitat for Beneficial Insects
In Nature’s wisdom and elegance, what’s good for supporting bats and birds is also good for beneficial insects!
Are we really saying you should try to keep more bugs in your garden? Yes! It’s all about Right Bug, Right Place. Learn more about beneficial insects and why you should invite them into your landscape here in our blog post.
Did you know? Many pollinators and beneficial insects nest in the ground over winter. They need adequate shelter to stay warm and protect their next generation, who will stay tucked away until spring has arrived, and temps are consistently back up over 50*F.
Other beneficial insects nest in tall standing stalks, such as echinacea, goldenrod and joe pye weed. They rely on “messy,” undisturbed patches of wildflowers like these to survive the winter, until the next generation emerges well into spring. Just wait to clean up those gardens!
According to Xerces Society, shelter and overwintering habitat is the number one most important factor in protecting our native bee populations. Habitat for bees is constantly declining, due to human interference. The little things you do in your landscape truly make a meaningful difference for bees and other pollinators who need your support!
How To Support Beneficial Insects This Winter
Learn where pollinators go in winter, plus 5 easy steps for protecting insect habitat from Xerces Society
Explore Xerces Society’s Guide for nesting + overwintering habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects. This informative PDF has everything you need to know about supporting insects with native habitat in your landscape.
If you do cut back flowers, leave at least 12” - 18” of stalk standing for stem-nesting insects. Watch Kendra demonstrating this technique here!
Want More Tips for Supporting Wildlife + Building Habitat?
Join our Mindful Fall CleanUp Challenge!
When you join, you'll receive a weekly email with simple, actionable tips for protecting pollinators, supporting wildlife, and interacting in beneficial ways with your landscape through the fall season, through Thanksgiving.
→ Learn more and join the Mindful Fall CleanUp Challenge here!
Get 1:1 Support for Building Native Habitat In Your Landscape
Want more 1:1 support to identify where you can build more native habitat for bats, birds and beneficial insects in your landscape? Book an on-site Land Walk Consultation with Kendra! There are a few spots left for these transformative in-person visits.
Walk your land with an experienced ecological designer, talk about your challenges, dreams and goals, and get custom support for your unique landscape. Booking a Land walk Consultation now will allow Kendra to get to know your land, and open up possibilities for more support with spring projects.
→ Fill out these 3 quick questions here to submit your Land Walk Consultation booking request.