Getting through a long, cold winter can be tough forwildlife, and it’s normal to want to make their lives a little easier. If youwant to help animals in winter, be sure you aren’t inadvertently doing moreharm than good. Here are some tips for helping wildlife overwinter.
Birds,beneficialinsects, and othercritters require natural, undisturbed areas. Helping wildlife overwintermeans giving up the idea of a perfectly manicured lawn and tidy garden. Forinstance, you can:
Include more native plants in your garden. Native plantshave adapted to your region’s climate and soil and they attract a diversevariety of birds, butterflies,and beneficial insects. Hardy native plants are droughttolerant, and they require no fertilizer, pesticides, or herbicides.
Plant as many native evergreens as possible, includinglow-growing plants like fernsand sedges.Evergreens provide year-round protection from predators for rabbitsand other small animals. They also provide a place for birds to roost and raisetheir young. Many native butterflies and moths lay their eggs on evergreentrees.
Birds get hungry in fall and winter, so just a couple ofbird feeders can provide nourishment until spring. Provide a diverse selectionof foods because different birds have different dietary requirements. Blackoil sunflower seeds are a great source of nutrition and fat for a varietyof birds. Nyjer thistle attracts finches and several other birds.
If possible, include suet feeders, as birds need fat forenergy during the winter. Other popular foods include chunks of fruit,mealworms, or peanuts. Avoid cheap seed mixes, which consist mostly of uselessfillers.
Look for squirrel-prooffeeders if the rascally critters are helping themselves to birdseed.Squirrels don’t hibernate and they’re creative when it comes to finding food.If you want to help them out though, squirrelslove unshelled peanuts, dried corn on the cob, or chunks of carrots and apples.
Sometimes, feeding wildlife in winter, including deer,is actually harmful. Wildlife winter survival is vital; yet, it’s natural forsmaller, weaker animals to die during the winter months. Attracting largegroups to one area, however, increases the risk that diseases will spread ormakes the animals more prone to be hit by cars. Feeding also invites cougars, coyotes,and other predators to your neighborhood.
Deer can become aggressive and may attack smaller members ofthe herd, or even small dogs. Also, keep in mind that feeding deer ensuresthey’ll stick around to dine on your flowers and veggies once winter haspassed.
During the winter months, wild animals find the home nestled in leaf piles, settle into trees, or burrow into compost heaps. With many garden animals hibernating through the winter – short food supplies and plummeting temperatures make life difficult. Some species such as birds and squirrels, do not hibernate, but struggle through the season, using up fat reserves to store heat.
As a gardener, you can make a significant contribution to the wellbeing of wildlife today. – helping them through the winter months. Doing so can gain you access to a close range of natural wildlife, something children will especially enjoy.
Birds rely on birdhouses installed in gardens during the autumn and winter months, as by this time their natural diet of insects have become scarce. As birds do not hibernate it is important that they remain well-fed throughout the colder days to ensure they keep warm. To help keep birds warm throughout the icier weeks, try to keep fallen fruit undisturbed. A fantastic bird aid is a popular birdhouse. Install a house or bath in your garden and create a haven where birds may eat and drink. A birdbath also helps birds clean their feathers properly – essential for keeping insulated.
There are currently 17 species of bat found in Britain – however, over the last 50 years, we are seeing the population decline. Creating a bat-friendly environment at home in your garden could help keep bats flying the night sky in the numbers they should.
Bats often go unseen, unsurprising as they are active during the night whilst we are tucked up in bed. Increase food supply and provide shelter to create a bat-friendly garden. Bats prey on insects (some considered pests) such as mosquitoes, moths, and midges. Growing particular plants helps as certain flowers attract moths and other creatures (great snacks for a hungry bat).
During the day, bats hide in dark places, such as in hollow trees and under tiles. Bat boxes can be found in garden centres or made from scratch from untreated, unplanned wood – giving your garden bats a safe place to rest.
They are a few steps you can take to ensure that your garden is a safe environment for frogs and other creatures throughout winter. Firstly, check bonfires before they are lit for animals who may be sheltering or hibernation (this also goes for hedgehogs).
It can be very helpful for wildlife if pond owners melt a hole when iced over – this enabled animals to drink from and enter the water with ease. Also, toxic gases can build up in the water of a frozen pond, which may kill any fish or frogs that are hibernating at the bottom.
Please note: do not crack the ice in an attempt to create a hole as the shockwaves can be damaging to already existing wildlife.
Additionally, take care when handling compost heaps – the warmth is often invited to frogs and toads in the winter months.
A friend of the gardener – Hedgehogs eat snails, slugs and insects. To help your garden hedgehog(s) through the winter, build it a home. Pick an area of the garden to be ‘wild’ with leaves and logs – the aim is to create an inviting nest. A home can be built simply from positioning a plank of wood against a wall – or you can learn to build one.
There are many adjustments you can make to prepare your garden for Hedgehogs. Hedgehogs hibernate between November and March and require enough fat to survive the hibernation period. By providing water and a snack, hedgehogs are more likely to return. So if you want a permanent resident to try leaving out crushed cat biscuits for example. If you do decide to follow these steps and invite hedgehogs into your garden it is important that you make your garden is a safe haven that is free from any wildlife hazards. Make a mental note a scan for hedgehogs or other animals before mowing the lawn for example. Furthermore, slug pellets can be a real danger to hedgehogs – try and only use them as a last resort, and then ensure you place them beneath a slate that would block a hedgehog’s access.
If carried out correctly, your garden can become a safe and exciting environment where children can learn about wildlife, and wildlife can flourish.
Centre for nature and green living
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I f you’ve had it bad in your garden this year, spare a thought for our wildlife. Our birds, butterflies, bees and other animals breed and hibernate at particular times, according to the availability of food and habitat. Frogs and toads emerge from hibernation to breed in recently thawed ponds. Garden birds nest when the availability of caterpillars and aphids is at its peak, while swifts, swallows and house martins return from Africa to take advantage of the masses of airborne insects between May and August.
But not this year. In parts of East Anglia, frogs and toads returned to their breeding ponds to find they had dried out during the spring drought. And when the rains finally came, caterpillars and aphids were washed off plants, putting baby birds at risk of starvation. Swifts and swallows have also gone hungry: insects can’t fly, let alone breed, in wet weather.
We asked leading conservation experts to share their findings into how our garden wildlife has fared this year, and discovered a mixed picture of winners and losers. Read on to see what you can do to help 10 of the most affected species survive the winter ahead.
Bats fared badly this year. During the spring and early summer, Bat Conservation reported a 50 per cent increase in calls to its helpline, with starving bats unable to fly being the most common concern. Bats eat midges and moths, but these can’t fly in rain, so bats had difficulties feeding. And as bats only give birth to one baby a year – usually in May and June when conditions were particularly bad this year – some populations are likely to have suffered considerably.
H ow to help
Put in a pond and grow nectar-rich plants, as both will attract insects in the evening. You can also become a bat carer as there’s a desperate shortage in many parts of Wales and Scotland, the Midlands and London. Visit bats.org.uk for details.
The wet, cold spring took its toll on baby birds, according to the RSPB. The 2012 Make Your Nature Count survey revealed the number of people who observed baby thrushes in their garden fell by 27 per cent this year. Sightings of baby blackbirds and robins were also down. “A little bit of cold and wet wouldn’t normally be a big problem,” says Mark Eaton, RSPB principal conservation scientist. “But the sustained rain and colder-than-usual temperatures could have made it much more difficult for chicks to survive. Song thrushes and blackbirds have open cup nests that are more exposed to the elements, unlike blue tits, which have more enclosed and sheltered nests.”
Ensure song thrushes and blackbirds get fit for the breeding season by leaving mealworms and halved apples on the ground. Brush leaves under shrubs so the birds can find beetles and insect larvae, and plant a shrub, such as hawthorn, for berries.
“We think this may be the worst-ever summer for garden butterflies,” says Martin Warren, chief executive of Butterfly Conservation. Butterflies can’t fly in the rain and they need warmth to fly and breed, so little sunshine and lots of rain will disrupt their breeding, putting local populations at risk of dying out, especially those that only fly for a short period. Early reports from the Big Butterfly Count 2012 suggest garden species such as the peacock, red admiral and painted lady, have disappeared from some areas. It’s not all bad news though. Species such as brimstone and orange tip will have fared well in the warm, dry, early spring.
Grow a patch of long grass for species such as gatekeeper, meadow brown, speckled wood and ringlet to breed in. If you can, grow nettles in a sunny spot to provide for peacock, painted lady and red admiral. Visit butterfly-conservation.org.
Ladybirds appear to be bucking the trend this year, faring better than many species. “Ladybirds are perfectly adapted to deal with large amounts of rain,” explains Helen Roy of the UK Ladybird Survey. “They have a tough outer shell, and can bring their legs in and just sit out the bad weather.” They’re best known as aphid predators, but some, such as orange ladybirds, eat mildew, which has flourished.
T here is a flip side, however. “It’s also been a brilliant year for harlequins,” says Helen. Invasive harlequin ladybirds are colonising Britain and are blamed for a sharp decline in native two-spots.
Leave aphids on your plants for ladybirds to find. Growing nettles is one of the best ways to attract aphid-eating ladybirds into your garden, as nettle aphids are some of the earliest to emerge from hibernation. Find out more at ladybird-survey.org.
“Overall it’s been a disastrous year for bumblebees,” says Ben Darvill, director of Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Many species nest in the ground, so in flooded areas, bumblebee nests are likely to have been destroyed. Tree bumblebees will have fared better, although availability of food may have been poor. “The lack of sunshine has meant fewer flowers this summer. This means less pollen and nectar for bumblebees,” says Ben.
Buy in flowering plants to boost food availability, and make a note of the flowering plants in your garden to plan ahead for next autumn. Choose plants like ivy, Sedum spectabile and Verbena bonariensis, which all offer a lifeline to late-flying bees. For more information, visit bumblebeeconservation.org.
It has been a mixed year for British amphibians. The charity Froglife was concerned in spring when the drought caused ponds in East Anglia to dry up. Froglife’s Sam Taylor says: “Many frogs and toads may not have bothered breeding, instead absorbing their spawn, which will put them in a better position to breed next year.” The rain came in good time for newts, however, which breed later than frogs and toads.
Dig a pond with shallow edges and top it up if it starts to dry out, especially in spring. It’s better to use rain water to fill and top up the pond, but if you don’t have any, use a small amount of tap water. For more information, visit froglife.org.
You’d think hedgehogs would have thrived as their main food, slugs, have had such a good year. But conditions may have been so bad that ample food wasn’t enough to save them. “Hedgehogs often breed in nests on the ground,” says Fay Vass from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS). “In areas that were flooded, nests may have become waterlogged and the babies will have died.” The BHPS received calls from gardeners who found weak hedgehogs out during the day – a sure sign they’re in trouble.
Look out for hedgehogs in the daytime and call the BHPS on 01584 890801 if you see one. Leave out a dish of water and meat-based dog or cat food to help them fatten up for winter. Hedgehogs are looking for places to hibernate now, so check bonfires before lighting them. Visit britishhedgehogs.org.uk.
Barn owls were thriving in spring, with broods of up to seven babies reported by Barn Owl Trust volunteers. But this changed during the June rains. “Barn owls can’t fly silently with wet wings,” explains the Trust’s David Ramsden. “This means mice and voles can hear them coming.” After the rains, starving and dead baby barn owls were being found in nests. However, late-summer dry weather and field vole prey thriving in lush grass growth, may have boosted breeding.
With the on set of winter around the corner and the days getting shorter and colder spare a thought for the animals and birds this time of year as their food become’s less available and some mammals shock up before they go into hibernation.If you have a garden place some bird feeders out,fat balls,peanuts etc and clean drinking water in a shallow bowl, very important in hard weather when other water sources may be frozen.Ensure you are not marking it easier for predators to catch the birds, place them away from fences and dark corners ideal places for ‘next doors’ cat to be lurking and waiting for an easy meal.
Make your garden a paradise for birds/wildlife and you will reap the rewards by being able to watch them all year,plant berry-producing bushes and trees,also plants that enhance insects as they are key foods iteams for tits and sparrows in the spring.Use old fruit from local markets and shops to feed thrushes through the winter,spread the fruit out onto your garden in different sizes to give all the birds the chance before the thrushes monopolise it.
A key thing with feeders is to make sure you clean them out regularly as good hygiene is imperative as Salmonella is widespread in wild birds,and wooden bird tables are difficult to clean and best avoided, also don’t put to much seed/food in them as it can go mouldy increasing the risk of disease,so aim to top up your feeds regularly when they have almost become empty . The RSPB do some brillant feeders with 100% of the profits going to helping birds and wildlife.
Feeding the birds and animals in your garden can be so rewarding and offer you a chance to see these beautiful creatures up close and give you a vision into their world while in the comfort of your own home. So its an important thing to remember that feeding birds/animals in your garden is part of the overall management of your garden and planting trees,plants to provide natural sources of food to sustain the wildlife in your garden all year round is the key, but at this time of year you need to supplement this with more artificial sources ‘Fat Balls,Peanuts,Food Waste,Sunflower Seeds,etc,never put out desiccated coconut as it swells inside the birds.
The birds will get use to you feeding them so please try not to break the circle of feeding as it will be a place wildlife will see as somewhere they can rely on in harsh times. Hopefully you and your family will get some much enjoyment out of watching these birds/animals feeding, seeing the characters of each different bird played out in front of you.