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Help wildlife survive winter

Winter wildlife

Most garden wildlife hibernates over winter, as food is in short supply and freezing temperatures make life difficult. Learn how to help wild creatures through the cold winter months, below.

In winter, wild animals and insects hunker down in log and leaf piles, nestle into tree bark, or bury themselves in compost heaps or mud. Some species, such as birds and squirrels, don't hibernate, but struggle to stay alive - using up fat reserves just to stay warm.


Birds

Birds are more likely to visit gardens in autumn and winter, as they rely on bird feeders when their natural sources of insects and grubs dry up. They need calorie-rich suet, sunflower hearts and peanuts to maintain fat reserves on frosty nights. In colder weather, look out for less common visitors, such as waxwings, blackcaps, redwings and bullfinches.

How to help

  • Leave fallen fruit on lawns, bird tables or at the back of borders for birds to find and feast on.

  • Allow teasels and sunflowers to seed, providing you with winter interest and an instant snack for birds.

  • Install a bird bath, where birds can drink and clean their feathers - essential for insulation

Frogs, toads and newts

Frogs, toads and newts overwinter in log and leaf piles, or beneath stones and plant pots. Some rest in the mud at the bottom of ponds. They're also fond of compost bins, so be careful if forking over the heap. Frogs enter a state of torpor in winter, rather than hibernation, rising from their slumber in search of food on warm days.

How to help

  • Float a tennis ball or similar in your pond to prevent it freezing over, reducing oxygenation and suffocating any frogs beneath the surface.

  • Create a rock pile. Ideally, this should face north, to avoid temperature highs and lows between day and night. If possible, site it near a pond or damp spot

Hedgehogs

Nearly half of all hedgehogs die during their first winter. Many starve, while those born in late-summer are often too small to hibernate, and so are unable to survive the cold weather. In mild winters, hedgehogs are prone to waking up, having been tricked into believing it is spring. They waste valuable fat reserves looking for food.

How to help

  • Provide hedgehogs with a warm place to sleep by making a leaf pile or buying or making a bespoke hedgehog house. Leave warm, snug compost heaps be until spring, where hedgehogs will rest and also find food.

  • Leave a dish of water and some dog or cat food to

  • help boost their fat reserves. Stop feeding them as winter sets in to encourage them to hibernate.

  • Always check bonfires before lighting them, preferably making the pile on the day you intend to light it.

  • If you find a baby hedgehog in autumn, take it in and keep it warm. Feed it with cat or dog food and water, but don't release it until it weighs at least 450g (1lb). Visit britishhedgehogs.org.uk for further information on how to help them.

Insects

Insects readily hibernate in gardens. Bumblebees dig holes in the ground or rest in leaf litter, butterflies sleep in garages, sheds and between folds of curtains. Wasps, ladybirds and lacewings shelter under loose bark on logs and in cracks in door and window frames. If you disturb them, they're likely to perish. If you can't leave them undisturbed, move them to a cool spot where they can settle again.

How to help

  • Recreate the nooks and crannies insects hibernate in by tying up bamboo and sunflower stems, and leave them in a dry spot in the garden.

  • Provide late-flying insects with a source of food by soaking a clean sponge in a solution made from an equal mix of sugar and water.

Discuss this plant feature

Talkback: Help wildlife survive winter
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rucklidge 24/11/2011 at 15:29

It is a useful article. The main problem I have in winter is keeping the water unfrozen. it seems that as soon as I thaw the bird bath, it freezes over again. I tried that stuff to put in the water to inhibit freezing, it was too cold, so didn't work!

catbalu1 24/11/2011 at 15:29

Very useful article. i have 4 cats but i have a lot of birds visit my garden. i have feeders all over the garden and bird baths and water features.

gharrop 24/11/2011 at 15:29

Maybe because lots of cats and magpies round here for the first time in many years I have very few birds visit my largish garden. Strawberries did not need netting this year at all. Haven't seen a greenfinch for ages. Nor a thrush - not even a blackbird!

pinkjude 24/11/2011 at 15:29

I have a pond, a bird bath, a fat ball feeder, a peanut feeder and a seed feeder, plus i put food on the ground. We have quite a few cats but I also get a lot of birds incl woodpeckers, jays, black birds, blue and great tits, geen finches, gold finches, wren, robin, starlings, sparrows, and lately long tailed tits.

Rosemary Clarke 14/01/2012 at 07:30

Always the cats get the blame for declining birdlife!
Some may catch the odd bird but most cats allowed inside during the day, will not "bother". They should be too well fed. YES it IS there instinct but there are other factors affecting our birds.
Bird tables and feeders need to be near hedges and/or other cover, also the water, hanging bird baths maybe.
I have a sheltered garden so have not yet had the birdbaths freeze. I also have a pond with the pump running all year round so birds can drink from the edge [keeping a watch for cats and foxes maybe] and some seem to balance on the water for a quick bath.
The starling use the hanging bird bath more than other birds, it can accommodate 4 starlings at same time - after the bickering and jostling there is not much water left for remaining starlings!! I have another big wooden bowl with water they use as well. As I top up the feeders and feed the foxes early evening I can refresh the baths so most starling will get their bath before going to bed!
The frogs and froglets have places under the stones around my pond and other upturned pots with leaves to burrow into. 2 years ago I rescued frogspawn that would have perished in the "freeze" the next day after being deposited. they were raised in a 4` fish tank managing to end uop with [short version - fed fish flakes, crickets etc, with 42 froglets from 100s of tadpoles. I/we learned a lot about tadpoles and froglets especially that they eat each other! These were transferred to a redundant aviary and fed crickets and mealworms and eventually found their way out in to the garden. So...we do have more frogs than we did. NOt sure I will do it again though.

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