If you love wildlife in your garden and are interested in ways to help them then we have a few tips on how!
The next few months the big challenge facing garden wildlife is an increase in their need for calories and a reduction in the hours available to gather them. Add in bad weather and the increased competition as animals move to reliable food sources and it’s easy to understand how winter survival is so difficult. We can all do our bit to help by providing foods that are high in energy, a reliable source of clean water for drinking and bathing, and minimising disturbance of feeding or hibernating animals.
Foods rich in calories, such as sunflower hearts, peanuts (from a safe source) and fat cakes can be vital for a range of garden wildlife, most noticeably birds, but in late autumn and early spring hedgehogs will be desperately trying to lay down sufficient reserves to survive their winter hibernation. With the exception of bats, other mammals will need to eat every day, so providing supplementary food can be a real help to a range of wildlife.
For birds the short winter days make life particularly difficult, so high energy foods and the opportunity to feed without disturbance in the first and last hour of the day can literally be vital. If possible keep pets indoors at this time and think about putting out extra feeders during cold snaps to reduce queues.
Hibernating amphibians and hedgehogs are also at risk from ordinary activities such as garden maintenance. If you do discover hibernating animals, gently replace the soil or other material so that they can hibernate safely and be particularly careful when building bonfires. Ideally the materials should be kept off the ground to avoid animals taking up residence, but if that isn’t possible, a good tip is to move a bonfire a short distance before igniting it, just in case it’s been adopted by a hibernating hedgehog. Obviously if you do find a ball of leaves in the base, replace some of the materials over the hedgehog’s winter nest and leave it in peace until the spring!
Squirrels and smaller rodents will be present throughout the winter, and a few lucky gardens will also get to see rare visitors such as pine martens that are attracted either by the food being offered, or the creatures that are eating it.
Birds are much more mobile and we are all likely to see winter migrants. Some will have travelled thousands of miles to escape the harsh weather in Iceland, Scandinavia or Russia, while others may be local birds, driven into our gardens by lack of food in the surrounding countryside. It looks as if 2015 has been a poor year for tree seed production, so we may see lots of seed eating birds such as bramblings, siskins and lesser redpolls in our gardens this winter. All of these birds will eat sunflower hearts and most will also appreciate a chance to drink and bathe.
Bramblings are similar in appearance to chaffinches, but the males are a warm orange colour with a brown/black head, neck and upper back in autumn which gradually changes into glossy black by the spring. Both sexes have a white rump, so if you see a flock of chaffinches and notice a few white rumps as they fly away, be on the alert for bramblings, but bear in mind that bullfinches and goldfinches also have white rumps.
Adult male siskins are a bright yellow/green with a black cap and chin. The rump and outer tail is almost a pure yellow. Females are more soberly attired, being a brown/green and lacking the cap and chin markings. Lesser redpolls often associate with flocks of siskins and can be mistaken females of that species, but if you look closely they’re easily recognised by the red on the crown and a small black throat patch or bib.
Every winter sees the arrival of fieldfares and redwings, often referred to as “winter thrushes”. Fieldfares are the same size as a Mistle Thrush and are grey on the head and back with black tails. Redwings are similar in size and shape to a song thrush, in fact only the cream eye stripe and the red around the wing separates redwing from this species.
So be on the lookout this winter for all sorts of wildlife coming into your gardens and be sure to have plenty to offer them in term of food.
To place an order and for a 10% discount visit www.birdfood.co.uk/yourhomeblog15. Information courtesy of Martin George, Wildlife Advisor at CJ Wildlife.