You may not think that wildlife needs our help to survive throughout winter, but in actual fact, this is the time of year that they are most reliant on humans. As the weather starts to turn, there becomes less food available in the countryside to the overwintering wildlife, and by offering the correct food and shelter you can increase the diversity of creatures that appear in your garden.
Providing Food for Birds
Birds benefit from feeding throughout the year, however, it is most important during winter as it increases their breeding success the following year. You should aim to provide them with food that contains a high-fat content as this helps to keep them warm.
If you’re looking to offer natural foods for birds and already have ivy or bushes in your garden, resist the urge to cut it back. By waiting until March, the berries are available to birds for longer and the leaves can provide a foraging habitat for insect-eaters such as tits.
During winter, bird feeders are used most heavily compared to the rest of the year and there is a variety of options and food types available that are suitable to give to them:
- Fat blocks placed in wire cages helps birds to receive the fat content required to keep them warm throughout winter. These can be made by melting suet into moulds (such as coconut shells) and being placed in wire cages.
- Wire mesh feeders are suitable for peanuts, whilst seed feeders are best for other smaller seeds.
- Feed placed on a wire mesh just above the ground will help to encourage ground-feeding birds such as robins and dunnocks to spend some more time in your garden.
Ensure that you keep the feeders topped up so that birds don’t waste their energy visiting your garden if there is no food available.
Looking Out for Mammals and Amphibians
With bonfire night not being too far away, it’s very important to check bonfires before they are lit as animals such as hedgehogs, toads and frogs may be sheltering there. You should also be wary when turning compost heaps as they are often warm and provide the perfect sanctuary for these amphibians along with other animals.
The following tips will allow many amphibians and mammals to comfortably survive this winter:
- Provide a shallow container of water at ground level as this will benefit all species of garden wildlife that needs to drink.
- Spread fallen leaves over your flower beds to allow frogs and invertebrates to spend winter amongst the damp leaves. This also creates a foraging habitat for thrushes and blackbirds.
- If you have a pond in your garden, melting a hole in the ice allows the wildlife to drink, and enter and exit the water. By filling a saucepan with hot water and placing it on the ice until a hole has melted, you can create an entry point for the animals without sending shockwaves through the water by cracking it, and causing harm to the species below.
- Leaving a dish of water and meat-based cat or dog food outside of your property can provide food to hedgehogs, helping them to fatten up for winter.
Offering Shelter to Insects
Although they’re not everyone’s favourite creatures, it’s still important to take care of insects throughout winter.
By leaving dry plant stems standing in the garden, you are providing shelter for all kinds of insects. Just make sure that when you do cut them in spring, that you leave them in a stack until towards the end of the season to allow the overwintering insects to emerge.
Ladybirds tend to gather in large clusters on dead plant stems and are more commonly found in more sheltered parts of the garden. To allow them to feed, leave aphids, also known as greenflies, blackflies, and whiteflies, on your plants for the ladybirds to find. Growing nettles is one of the best ways to attract aphid-eating ladybirds as nettle aphids are some of the first to emerge from hibernation.