Those of us who live in temperate climates know winter's arrival brings with it dramatic changes to our once green yards and beautiful blooming landscapes. Trees are bare, flowers and vegetables vanish, and gone are the usual food sources wildlife depends on for survival. Wild animals must find new sources of food. This means they may begin invading yards and even homes, where they can sometimes do serious damage and spread diseases.

Coyotes

coyote crossing a road

(Thomas Shockey from Pexels)

Even if you don't see or hear them, coyotes may be living nearby. Since the 1950s, populations in North America have increased by 40%. That's twice the rate of any other North American carnivore. They now live in every state except Hawaii. More than 400,000 are killed each year, but this extremely adaptable predator is still thriving much more than expected and is even heading toward South America.

People who hear their howls often assume the pack is larger than it really is. Coyotes do this by using a combination of fluctuating howls with rapid changes in pitch. Bouncing the howls off objects in their environment makes two or three coyotes sound more like a pack of ten or more, and makes them seem much more formidable to nearby predators and competitors.

'don't feed the coyotes' sign

(Alyson Hurt from Arlington, Va., USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

To deter coyotes in your neighborhood, use ammonia-soaked rags or spray ammonia in areas they frequent. It must be reapplied over time and after every rain. Strobe lights, motion lights, blinking holiday lights, and other odor deterrents can also work.

coyote tracks in the snow

(Coyote tracks in snow; photo: Jaynee Levy/USFWS)

Roof Rats

Rodent infestations can be another winter pest woe. A survey by the National Pest Management Association found that 45% of rodent problems occur in the fall and winter.

description of a rat

(Comparison of a black roof rat (Rattus rattus) with a brown Norwegian roof rat (Rattus norvegicus), based on a work by Karim-Pierre Maalej; translated by: Sponk, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
rats eating food
(Black roof rat: Kilessan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

rat in the rafters

(Brown roof rat)

Moles, Voles, and Shrews

A yard is an outdoor extension of a home's living space. Moles and voles only sometimes invade homes. However, one thing they do invade frequently is lawns. These critters are active, but often unseen, during winter. Yet they can destroy a lawn faster than you can say, "holy moley".

mole mounds in the snow

a mole

(Above photo: Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University; licensed under the CC 3.0 unported license)

Usually, you know voles are active by the trails they leave in your lawn after the snow melts in early spring. During winter, voles run freely along the ground beneath the snow using well-worn 1"-2" wide paths. They eat the grass out of these paths, creating obstacle-free runways. When the snow melts, the trails become easily visible. Once the snow is gone, voles move to plant beds and overgrown areas to hide.

vole damage
(Jim Barton / Patterns of vole runs; (CC BY 2.0)

Although its appearance is more like that of a mouse, the shrew is not a rodent. It's a relative of the hedgehog and mole

a shrew near a burrow

(Shrew: original by Soebe, edited by Fashionslide, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In general, shrews are terrestrial creatures that forage in leaf litter and dense vegetation for seeds, insects, nuts, worms, and other foods. However, some do climb trees, live underground, and also under snow. They have small eyes and generally poor vision, but excellent senses of hearing and smell. They're extremely active critters with voracious appetites. Shrews have an unusually high metabolic rate, higher than comparable small mammals. In captivity, they can eat 1.5-2 times their weight daily.

They do not hibernate, but are capable of entering torpor. In winter, many species undergo morphological changes that drastically reduce their body weight. Shrews can lose between 30%-50% of body weight, even shrinking the size of their bones, skull, and organs.

cat paw holding a rodent
(Northern short-tailed shrew, a gift from my cat)

Bobcats

Many confuse moles and voles. If you have something that is pulling flowers underground, chewing on bulbs, or gnawing on roots then you have voles. A vole’s diet consists of plant material, while a mole’s diet is insects and earthworms. Moles make tunnels in the lawn and landscape while searching for insects. Although moles may disrupt plants in search for insects and worms, they will not feed on or damage plants.

Read more at: https://wayne.ces.ncsu.edu/2015/12/moles-or-voles/

Many confuse moles and voles. If you have something that is pulling flowers underground, chewing on bulbs, or gnawing on roots then you have voles. A vole’s diet consists of plant material, while a mole’s diet is insects and earthworms. Moles make tunnels in the lawn and landscape while searching for insects. Although moles may disrupt plants in search for insects and worms, they will not feed on or damage plants.

Read more at: https://wayne.ces.ncsu.edu/2015/12/moles-or-volesBobcat

Bobcats range from southern Canada to central Mexico. They're about twice the size of a domestic cat. The name comes from their stubby, “bobbed” tail. Like all members of the lynx family, the bobcat's specialty is hunting rabbits. They also eat insects, chickens and other birds, rodents, and large bobcats will occasionally take down a deer.

two lynx in the snow

From the insect world: ticks and snow flies

People sometimes think ticks die off in winter. They don't. Adult deer ticks that spread Lyme disease begin their prime feeding activity around the time of the first fall freeze when their main host animals, deer, are actively moving around. If deer aren't available, black-legged ticks will attach to people or pets anytime the weather warms.

a walking tick

lone star tick
(Lone Star Tick)

Adult deer ticks are not killed by freezing temperatures. Even in the coldest regions of North America, these ticks can still be active on days when temperatures are above freezing.

inactive and active ticks

(Illustration: CDC)

Ticks survive the winter in several ways, but don't vanish because it gets cold. Depending on species and stage of life cycle, they can survive the winter months by going dormant or latching onto a host. A favorite tick hideout is leaf litter. Snowfall simply serves to insulate dormant ticks, which are already protected by the layer of debris. Soft-shell ticks winter underground in dens or burrows.

Snow flies are a genus of wingless crane fly. This species has frequently been observed at temperatures between 21° and 32° F.

a snow fly

(Snow fly by Jyri Mäki-Jaakkola, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)