How to Help Wildlife During Heatwaves and Drought

The summer season is in full swing, and many of us are looking for ways to beat the heat as temperatures climb. A trip to the swimming pool, an ice-cold beverage in the shade, relaxing inside with the air conditioning turned up – a myriad of options exist for humans when staying cool and comfortable is the goal. While many wildlife species have adapted physically and behaviorally over time to thrive within the average temperature ranges of their native habitats, unusually intense heat waves and drought can present a serious danger to them -- this summer, consider these simple tips for helping native wildlife beat the heat and stay safe!

Just like humans, most species found in Virginia need consistent access to fresh water – a need that intensifies during extreme heat and drought. If you happen to have a naturally occurring fresh water source on your property (like a pond or stream), ensure that wildlife can physically access it: clear debris away from the banks, and ensure the area is litter- and garbage-free. If you don’t have a natural water source on your property, there are still ways to help wildlife stay hydrated!

If you have a bird bath in your yard, keep it clean, keep it safe, and keep it flowing. Bird droppings, leaves, feathers, sticks, insects, and other debris will accumulate in bird baths if left unattended. Use a stiff-bristled brush to regularly remove algae build up, especially if your bird bath is in direct sunlight. Keeping birdbaths clean can also reduce the chance of spreading sickness and disease. Current research suggests songbirds aren’t as affected by Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza compared to other species, but as with any setting where wildlife gather in groups, transmittable diseases may be present. Ensure the environment surrounding your birdbath is safe: place it near natural sources of cover like trees or large bushes, and keep domestic animals (especially cats) indoors. Utilize a recirculating water pump or other device to keep the water moving – it discourages mosquitos from laying eggs in your bath, and the sparkling surface of the water will be more eye-catching for birds flying overhead.

 

Water dishes placed on the ground are another way to help smaller wildlife species survive extreme heat. A small, shallow, and wide dish with low edges is best. Correctly situated, smaller species have access to clean water without the risk of falling in and becoming trapped. Consider placing a large rock or stick in the dish as an exit ramp, just in case!

In addition to providing safe, clean water sources, your overall landscaping choices can also help wildlife. Use mulch in your garden and other outdoor spaces – it helps retain moisture in the soil for the animals that live there (toads, frogs, salamanders, burrowing mammals, etc.) Include shade and shelter throughout your yard: leafy plants, rock piles, partially buried garden pots – these are good sources of protection from both intense sunlight and predators.

 

Many of these tips are in line with existing guidelines for creating a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat. If you’re interested in helping wildlife thrive near your outdoor spaces year-round, consider learning more by visiting our Backyard Wildlife Habitat page.