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Messy fall yards benefit wildlife

A rake leans against a tree trunk.

Fall yard cleanup can be a drag, especially as the days get shorter and the weather gets dreary. Luckily, when it comes to making your yard a haven for wildlife over the winter, experts suggest messier is better.

Hilary Shughart is the president of the Bridgerland Audubon Society in Logan. She said birds and other wildlife that visit our yards during the long winter months benefit most when we minimize fall cleanup and allow nature to take its course.

“If you leave the leaves on the ground, it's a winter blanket. And not only does it help insulate the roots of your shrubs and trees and flowers, but it provides shelter for overwintering insects, which are extremely important food for birds come spring when we've got the caterpillars,” Shughart explained.

For those of us who garden, planting native flowers and trees gives animals crucial winter food in the form of leftover seeds and berries.

But, while yards full of leaves and dead flowers may not conjure images of winter beauty, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

“We need to change our idea of what beauty is, because sometimes we think everything needs to be nice and neat and clean.” Shugart said. “And we think of that as beauty and in one sense, but in terms of if we really want to admire nature and provide for the creatures that also use our yards, then beauty is a little bit different.”

Cleanup habits can be hard to break, but Shughart explained that even small steps are beneficial.

“Compromise is always a good approach. So maybe at the front of the building, you let everything be spruced up, but sides and back you let it go a little more cluttered…you know, rake what you need to but it’s not all or nothing,” Shughart said.

For more information about how you can winterize your yard to benefit wildlife, visit

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.