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Florida Snow! Nature’s Reminder to Enhance Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Florida Snow!  Nature’s Reminder to Enhance Backyard Wildlife Habitat

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Even though adapted to weather extremes, these migratory American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) appreciated the food and cover provided in this backyard.  Photo by Judy Ludlow

North Florida experienced a weather delight (or distress depending on your point of view!) this week in the form of freezing rain and snow!  The words “Florida” and “snow” are two words most people would not place together in the same sentence, but you may be surprised to learn that snow has been documented a number of times in Florida as revealed by records as early as 1891.  In Tallahassee, measurable snow has not fallen since 1989.  

The following information is taken from the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office Tallahassee, FL  about the history of Snowfall in Tallahassee:  Several winters ago, NWS Tallahassee Climate Focal Point, Tim Barry, responded to an inquiry from a reporter concerning snow climatology in Tallahassee. Some of those questions and answers are listed below.

In ten-year intervals, how many times has it snowed in Tallahassee Florida?

snow graphHow frequently does Tallahassee see snowfall?

From the information provided in the 1st question, we see that it snowed 32 times in Tallahassee since 1891. Please note that all but 7 of these occurrences were only Trace amounts. If we were to divide the period of record (117 years) by 32 we would get a frequency of once every 3.66 years. But as you can see from above, the more frequent occurrences of snow in the 50′s ,60′s and 70′s have skewed the results. The return period for measurable snow is just once every 17 years.  The most snow recorded in a 24-hour period was 2.8″ from February 12th – 13th, 1958.

Any interesting or exciting facts about Tallahassee winters?

There is a significant difference between the climate of north Florida and the southern portions of the peninsula. On average, we experience 35 days with minimum temperatures at or below freezing with most of these occurring from December through March. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Tallahassee was -2 F on February 13th 1899. More recently, we dipped down to 6 degrees F on January 21st, 1985.

Florida’s wildlife, although adapted to Florida’s weather, will thrive given the added boost of backyard habitats planned for their benefit, especially during these winter weather extremes!  During the winter, Florida’s native, resident, wildlife species are also joined by species which are here temporarily as they migrate through our state.  The hundreds of American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) outside my window are one example.

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Do you see the red cardinal in the shrub?  A variety of cover strategically placed near food sources helps minimize predation and provides protection from weather extremes.  Photo by Judy Ludlow

When growing your backyard habitat, think about recreating features which are naturally provided in undisturbed habitats, but only on a smaller scale.  To flourish, wildlife need adequate nutritious foods, functional cover, and clean water.  Locating food close to cover minimizes the exposure of foraging wildlife to severe weather conditions and to predation; these two factors account for a large percentage of mortality.  Cover comes in the form of trees, shrubs, brush piles, etc. of varying heights and sizes.  

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Brush piles such as this one provide valuable wildlife habitat for many species.  Photo by Judy Ludlow

The following information is from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s publication: Planting a Refuge for Wildlife.

Cover: Breeding, nesting, hiding, sleeping, feeding and traveling are just a few of the necessary functions in an animal’s life which require protective cover or shelter. Often plants used for cover double as food sources.  Strategic placement of cover is very important in that it reduces exposure to weather extremes and provides escape from predators.  

Food: All animals get their energy for survival from plants or other animals. The ideal wildlife management plan uses natural vegetation to supply year-round food – from the earliest summer berries to fruits that persist through winter and spring (such as sweetgum, juniper and holly). You will attract the widest variety of wildlife to your land by using native plants to simulate small areas of nearby habitat types. The “edges” where these habitat types meet will probably be the most visited areas in your neighborhood.  

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The boundary between two habitats such as between this lawn and small wooded area, creates an “edge effect” which is important to wildlife.  Photo by Judy Ludlow

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, please read the following publications and, as always, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Agent if you have any questions. 

Planting a Refuge for Wildlife

Landscaping for Wildlife

A Drop to Drink

Eight Ways to Double the Bird Species at Your Feeders

Landscaping for a Song

Making Your Backyard a Way Station for Migrants

On Your Own Turf

Plant Berry Producing Shrubs & Trees

Plant Wax Myrtles

There’s Life in Dead Trees

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Author: Judy Ludlow – judy.ludlow@ufl.edu

Judy Ludlow is the Agriculture and Natural Resource Agent in Calhoun County, Florida

Judy Ludlow

Permanent link to this article: http://okaloosa.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2014/02/02/florida-snow-natures-reminder-to-enhance-backyard-wildlife-habitat/