The winter season can be particularly challenging for the wildlife visiting our gardens. Recent weather has brought with it freezing temperatures and even snow! Water sources for bathing and drinking are hard to find and food is limited, especially if the cold weather carries on for longer than expected.
So what can be done to give our garden wildlife a hand? A few simple and inexpensive actions can make a huge difference and give us plenty of joy. By the way, looking after our wildlife is certainly one of the essential ‘garden jobs to do’ during the winter months when plants as yet require very little care.
BIRDS are probably the type of wildlife we as gardeners or wildlife enthusiasts think about in the first place. Robin, blue tit, long tail tit, gold finch, blackbirds, doves & pigeons, sparrows, wrens…just to name a few of our regular feathered garden visitors.
All they require is water to drink and topped up bird feeders. Bird feeders are available for a variety of bird seed: general garden bird seed mix, niger seed for gold finches, peanuts for woodpeckers and fat balls for a range of garden birds.
Bird feeding stations can also consist of a wire netting raised platform so you can put out mealworms or waxworms as a great source of protein. Any leftover cheese gratings or apple bits from your breakfast or lunchtime meal? The garden birds would appreciate them and they are not wasted, just a thought! I have a bird table in the shape of a little house in my garden which, other than providing seed, also functions as a shelter whilst birds feed. Talking about shelter, any bird boxes around the garden will provide good shelter, especially if the garden is thick with snow!
Bird baths and drinking stations in the garden are fantastic but they require maintenance, in particular when it’s freezing, or they become useless. Simply defrost any ice with warm water, clear out any algae and leaves and fill up with fresh water. Repeat defrosting if icy temperatures persist.
Just think that feeding birds outside your window or birds on your garden bird bath give you the chance to watch and observe them-get out those binoculars!
A further popular guest in the garden is the SQUIRREL. Squirrels do not hibernate, instead, they cache food during autumn to eat when food is scarce. We find buried walnuts from our tree all over the place from garden pots to lawns, mostly when a walnut sapling appears! Sometimes the bushy-tailed creatures are less welcome if they help themselves to the peanuts in the bird feeders but there are other foods that can be provided to get the squirrels attention when their own stores run low: offer them nuts such as hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds, plus some chopped apple, beans, carrots or spinach and perhaps install a little platform made from wire netting to carry the foods.
Some of us are lucky enough to spot foxes and badgers in our gardens. If you are able and willing to encourage them into your garden then this is the type of food they would appreciate during the winter months that are the toughest times of the year for them:
FOXES: Put out cheese, boiled potatoes, chicken carcasses, bread and fat scraps at dusk
BADGERS: provide earthworms - when the ground is frozen and lightly cooked meats, cheese, peanuts and fruit (we find they love bananas-check out our website tweets!)
Remember not to leave out large quantities of food each evening to avoid your visitors becoming dependent on your handouts! Think if wildlife will have to cross a busy road to get to the food you provide, if so, it becomes a danger for them and feeding is not advisable.
Foxes and badgers alike need water to drink and your garden pond is just the place! Your garden pond will need a hole in the ice. If it freezes over completely 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.
Make the hole carefully melting the ice with a warm pan or similar and never break the pond ice forcefully or with boiling water, as this can harm or even kill any fish that live in it. Putting a small floating ball in the hole can help to keep it open.
Let your garden go wild during the winter months!
Undisturbed areas such as piles of leaves, brushwood or left seed heads and grasses provide perfect places and materials for nesting, hibernation, resting and hiding as well as additional food sources for animals. Just think of our garden HEDGEHOGS! That means be prepared to leave tidying your garden until early spring. If you have space to accommodate a compost heap, that will become a welcome habitat for TOADS, and even GRASS SNAKES and SLOW-WORMS.
FINALLY: Take the cover of snow in your garden as an opportunity to spot tracks! Find out what who comes to visit while you are asleep!