This time of year, we get a lot of questions about caring for our native fauna. Some are looking fo advice on keeping animals that were acquired over the summer at the cottage or on a camping trip, others about outdoor visitors that seek out human settlements when food gets scarce.
For outdoor herbivore guests, like birds, squirrels or deer, we have great neighbors at The Preferred Perch that have the answers and supplies, so we just refer them there. For the occasional cute but wild carnivore, like foxes, we have solutions like frozen chicken necks/backs that can help them when hunting gets tough in the deep winter.
Most of our inquiries are for foods to replace the bugs and worms you can catch during the summer and fall, but not in winter. Many wild animals that are captured require these kinds of prey, and while it is easy to find them when the weather is warm, we find people suddenly scrambling when it gets cold.
In the wild, these animals would feast in the fall, find a proper spot to hibernate, and re-emerge the next spring. This hibernation cycle is an important part of their life cycle, and is very hard to replicate in captivity. So people will keep the animals at room temperature all winter, which is not the natural state for the animal.
Ideally, for people that want to keep these animals as pets, we recommend keeping them for a short time, and releasing them back into nature with enough time to feed and prepare for winter, including finding the hibernation spot.
When we tell people this, many times they will point at the animals that are sold in pet stores, many of which are very similar to the animals they’ve captured. The big difference is, animals sold in pet stores come from warmer climates, and do not hibernate. Some will slow down in winter, something called brumation, but they don’t truly hibernate, like our local animals do.
Of course, while these animals from the wild are not hibernating, they will require food.
Salamanders, garter snakes, and even some turtles require foods that are very hard to source in the winter. Pretty much the only option here is worms. If you can find a bait shop with appropriate sized worms, awesome. But these can be hard to find, especially in the winter months. Another option is vermiculture. Yes, you can raise your own worms, and it is becoming a very popular form of natural recycling, worms are great scavengers, and “vermicomposting” can be done indoors very easily. Getting the starter culture of worms is the toughest part, but googling vermiculture winnipeg can put you on track to finding supplies to start.
As an alternate to worms, some aquatic animals and snakes will also take an appropriate sized fish. Again, sourcing these isn’t always easy, and like growing your own worms to ensure supply, some people will breed fish to feed their pets. The easiest option here is guppies, platies or another live bearing fish.
Frogs can usually be fed a diet of gutloaded crickets, which is an easy item to find. Finding the proper size for tiny tree frogs can be a chore, but not an impossible task. Fruit flies can also be cultured for the smaller insectivores.
Most of our wild fauna does fine without our assistance. If you do decide to help them out, please make sure you are able to do so properly, do the research first.