Caring for Winter Wildlife

Nick OliverJust as we like to snuggle up somewhere warm and comfortable so to do the small animals we see in our garden, but how can we best help care for them in the cold autumn and winter when little or no food is available?

Caring for Winter Wildlife is easier than you think and a great way to help nature thrive. Nick Oliver from popular online garden retailer St John’s Garden Centre discusses the ways in which you can support your garden wildlife in the coming winter months.

Nick said “Winter can be strenuous on the wildlife which resides on our doorsteps. The drop in climate and the frost that comes with it can be truly damaging and endanger the lives of creatures living outside.

Spare a thought to garden birds who need to eat to stay warm and spend almost all of their time in a winter’s day just foraging for food. Insects, seeds and berries all become much harder to find, so you can help out by providing high energy foods such as unsalted peanut butter, seed and nut mixes and kitchen scraps such as cheese, porridge oats and baked goods.

It’s also very easy for us to assume that because the weather is getting cooler, water will be easy for birds to find, but this is not necessarily the case. Leave out a bird bath or a water drinker so that birds can easily hydrate. However, please do be weary of water freezing over which can make it exceptionally difficult. Try leaving a twig in the water to prevent it from freezing completely, but you must never use any anti-freeze products as these will do much more harm than good.

Nest boxes will provide smaller birds with roost sites, keeping them warm and sheltered from the elements. By making your garden a safe haven during the winter months, you will be encouraging birds to come back throughout the year.

Bird Box

The cold can be tough for insects too, so think of them in the winter months by putting up a bug box in your garden. These are best hung from trees, pergolas or near to ponds. This will encourage wildlife and provide an over-wintering habitat for insects such as ladybirds (which will also keep aphids under control) and a home for gentle solitary bees and many garden bugs who are in need of shelter and protection.

Bug Box

Moving down to the ground level, hedgehogs are also often forgot about creatures during the cold. Insects are scarce and earthworms are now deep into the ground, out of reach of the hedgehog’s tiny claws. Throughout autumn and early winter hedgehogs need to build up their fat reserves ready for hibernation. Leave food and fresh water out on a shallow plate in the evening. Specialist hedgehog food will contain everything that is required, but alternatively hedgehogs can also eat cat and dog food should you run out. To help hedgehogs stay warm you can make a home in your garden by leaving untouched piles of leaves scattered to help them create a nest. Once out of hibernation, hedgehogs will have lost a third of their body weight, so  it’s important to remember to leave out food and water from March onwards.

Be on the lookout for Autumn Juveniles. These are baby hedgehogs who were born later in the year who haven’t yet built up enough fat reserves for them to survive the extreme cold of a hibernation. If you see these then make sure that you feed it, give it water and fill a lukewarm hot water bottle and take it to your nearest hedgehog sanctuary.

With our help, winter can be made much easier for the wildlife on our doorsteps. Whether it is providing a warm place to rest, a boost in fat supplies or a drop of water, it doesn’t take much, but our small efforts can make a world of difference”.

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