We can all agree, one of the most positive things to have come from the recent lockdowns is that local wildlife have been able to enjoy various areas which were once bustling with human footfall.
We’ve all seen the footage of the deer tottering through deserted high streets, and ducks triumphantly waddling around areas usually occupied by people. Whilst it’s heart-warming to see them enjoying this new-found freedom, this doesn’t mean they are any less susceptible to the usual perils of winter, and we humans can do our bit to help get them through the colder months.
Here are a few ideas on how you can help our winged/furred/scaled friends – and at little to no extra cost!
Feed the birds
There are few sights more festive than a big fat Robin Red-Breast flitting and bobbing happily among the trees and bushes of our gardens on a cold winter’s day.
Robins (and most other birds) are known for being misleadingly tubby in the colder months, giving the appearance that they are well-fed. However, this is not necessarily the case. Birds will ‘fluff themselves up’ during the winter to keep warm, giving the often false illusion of a hearty diet.
Naturally, birds have a harder time feeding themselves during the colder months. With many bushes now void of berries, birds will rely on soil to dig up a delicious lunch, which can be difficult if the ground is frozen. They are also more exposed to certain predators whilst being on the ground (predominately of the feline variety…)
Bird-feeders are a great way to keep birds safely well-supplied during the winter. If you’re wondering what food will keep them well-nourished (we often instinctively think of bread as a great meal for a bird, but in reality, it contains very little nutrients) that you may already have lying around in your fridge or pantry, the RSPB recommends seeds, unsalted/unroasted peanuts, grains, cooked rice and pasta, boiled potatoes, dried sultanas, unsalted bacon, cheese, and apples, to name just a few.
Be mindful of sleeping cats
Okay, so cats don’t technically fall under the umbrella of ‘wildlife’, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible to various dangers during the winter months. Dangers that can be remedied with a little human consideration.
Cats love nothing more than cosying up in a nice warm spot and snoozing for hours on end, (it’s a hard life, eh?) and somewhere along the way the clever little critters figured out that cars are a nice source of warmth. Particularly the engine compartment. A good tap on the bonnet will likely alert them that nap-time is over, but for older or hard-of-hearing cats, it doesn’t hurt to ‘pop the hood’ just to make sure you haven’t got any extra passengers on your daily commute…
Breaking the ice…SAFELY
There is a small ecosystem that resides in the average garden-variety pond (excuse the bad pun) and like most wildlife, it is not immune to the hazards of winter. When a pond freezes over, it can lead to a build-up of toxic gases that become trapped and can be harmful to pondlife.
Whatever we do, we must resist the urge to quickly remedy this by smashing the ice, as the shockwaves can be traumatic, and sometimes fatal, to our aquatic residents. A safe way to remove the ice is to boil a small pan of water and place it on the ice and gently melt a hole. DO NOT pour boiling water over the ice. This will do more harm than good.
We all look forward to huddling around a nice big bonfire and watching our skies light up with bright, colourful fireworks. It’s a long-held tradition that welcomes in autumn, and reminds us that winter is just around the corner. Hedgehogs are also very aware of this, and during autumn, love nothing more than finding a nice big comfy pile of leaves to ride out the cold spell.
If you’re planning on enjoying the festivities, or just want to rid your garden of all the dead leaves, please take the time to sift through any piles of leaves or twigs before setting them alight. Hedgehogs are masters of disguise when it comes to dead leaves and foliage, and often blend in very well, so take extra precautions and keep a good eye out for them.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal and rely on the night-time to search for an ideal hibernation spot, so to be certain your bonfire will not cause them any harm, it is best to have it on the day you gather everything up for it. This will leave no time for them to wander into it, and will give you full peace-of-mind when you light up. Win-win!
Leave a bowl of water outside
The most simple and effective thing we can all do for our local wildlife is to leave out a bowl of fresh water every morning and evening.
This offering will help every little visitor that stops by your garden, from birds, to hedgehogs, badgers, foxes, and even mice. Such a small, simple gesture can go a long way, even in the deepest, darkest of winters, when it is that much harder for our wildlife friends to look out for themselves.