Spot Winter Wildlife In Your Garden
Winter is an important time for wildlife- for many it is the last stretch before mating season in the spring. While many animals will be out of sight as they hibernate, for some Winter can be one of the most active times of the year as they work twice as hard to find scarce nutrients to keep them fuelled throughout the coldest months.
Here’s our guide to the wildlife you can spot outside between now and the spring!
Small birds must eat between one-quarter and one-third of their body weight every single day, just to survive, which means that they can be most visible in the winter as they have to look extra hard for this all important food! Robins are ground feeders, so they prefer feeding tables over hanging feeders and love bushes and hedges to dip in and out of to keep them safe.
Covered feeding tables are especially important if it snows, as blanket snow cuts off their access to food elsewhere. Mealworms and fat and seed cakes are especially nutrient rich foods for the winter months.
During the depths of winter snails actually seal up the entrance to their shell with a thick mucus and hibernate. However, snails are an especially important food source for many birds during the winter and the spring mating season- with some species eating as many as 40% more snails when pregnant. While they are a particular peeve of gardeners all over, snails play an important part in the ecosystem, as many predators depend on them as a source of calcium.
The most humane and sustainable solution is to simply pop them all into a box when weeding and take them away from your garden. Simply throwing them over the fence won’t do as snails have a homing instinct!
Starlings can be seen individually hopping about the garden but are most noted for forming giant murmurations in the winter months. These can often be found in areas with reeds or marshland – head out at dusk between November and March to see these stunning swirling displays. In some areas, more than a million birds can move together in a murmuration! Starlings are currently endangered and you can support them by leaving out feed and making your garden more insect friendly.
Here is a small selection of well-known spots for seeing starling murmurations.
- -Somerset Levels
- -Gretna Green, Dumfries and Galloway
- -Leighton Moss, Lancashire
- -Aberystwyth Pier, Aberythwyth, Ceredigion
- -Otmoor RSPB reserve, Oxfordshire
- -Brighton Pier
One of the most common garden birds and another lover of earthworms- blackbirds love to feed on the grass, and can be often spotted listening out for their dinner. In the winter they switch to berries, fruit and insects. A garden full of berry producing bushes will be sure to attract them. Blackbirds are important in maintaining natural seed distribution across the UK.
Good news for spider haters out there- Blue Tits love to eat them! They like to nest in holes in trees, but are also happy to settle down in nest boxes. They’ll comfortable eat from bird tables and peanut feeders. Blue Tits begin looking to nest in late winter, so have your boxes up before then for them to find. Like many small birds they thrive in areas with higher density of woodland and hedgerows.
Song thrushes love to eat earthworms, but as the earth hardens in winter, they switch to snails. They actually crack the snails shells by banging them against a rock- the only UK bird to do so. They’re in dramatic decline in the UK, especially in farmland and urban areas. Help protect song thrushes by not poisoning slugs and snails in your garden this spring.
Otters aren’t more common in winter, but as they breed year round they can often stand out more in winter. Look for otters on riverways across the UK in the two hours before dawn or two hours after dusk when they are most active. You can often spot them by the behaviour of other animals, such as birds moving quickly away, or by looking from slip marks left on a bank by belly sliding otters.
These giant fish can be seen up to some dramatic splashing and jumping during their mating season. Depending on the temperature, this can be from the middle of February to April. Look for them in lowland lakes and slow flowing rivers.
Things you can do to help:
Build a nesting box
The ideal time to put nest-boxes up is early winter. Blue tits and great tits will begin looking for nest sites in late winter so get your box up early. National Nest Box Week is usually around Valentines Day. Robins need open-fronted ones that are hidden away behind foliage or climbing plants so that they don’t attract the attention of cats.
Add a bird feeder
Providing supplemental food for birds can make a huge difference. You can make your own bird feeder or buy one, but feeding garden birds in winter can make a real difference to their survival. In the coldest weather fat balls are a great source of food and providing foods such as sunflower seeds will ensure your garden is popular with greenfinches and chaffinches as well as blue tits, great tits and if you are lucky coal and marsh tits. If you put the feeders near a house window you can enjoy birdwatching from the comfort of your house! Keep birdfeeders and bird baths clean to prevent disease and parasites spreading.
Plant a tree or even a hedge
Winter is the best time for tree planting but you need to choose a day when the ground is not frozen! Choose trees or hedge plants such as hawthorn, rowan and holly as these will provide berries for birds in winter as well as places to nest in the Spring.
Feed the badgers
Badgers don’t actually hibernate during the winter, they just sleep a lot. If you see a badger during daylight hours it is a sign that food is especially scarce. Either way you can help out badgers during the winter time by leaving them cereal-based dog food, lightly cooked meat, cheese, unsalted peanuts or seasonal fruits.
Help out disoriented squirrels
Squirrels depend on landmarks to remember where they’ve buried their food. If you’ve done any landscaping in your garden- or even enthusiastic pruning- help them out by leaving out some extra supplies. The RSPCA recommends “hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds, plus some chopped apple, beans, carrots or spinach.”
Melt your frozen pond
Go about this carefully though, to avoid startling animals living under the ice. If you throw hot water on the pond and crack right through you can scare or shock any fish or frogs living under the ice. It is recommended to place the bottom of a hot pot of water on the ice to slowly melt through and allow the build up of gasses underneath to escape.