Late winter in the wildlife garden

, 15 February 2020
Late winter in the wildlife garden
Frogspawn is already appearing in ponds © Ryan Greaves

With the daylight hours now just getting a tiny bit longer as we approach the end of winter, we thought we’d speak to our friends at Vine House Farm Bird Foods to get some tips on what can be done at this time of year in a wildlife-friendly garden, and what to look out for. They’ve come back to us with the following five subjects, all of which we think are both informative and useful.

1. Put up nest boxes

If you don’t already have one or two nest boxes up in your garden, then now is the time to do so! Vine House Farm have all the information you need on which type and where to locate them etc, so have a look here and be sure to watch the short video.

2. Look out for frog spawn

Living in the south of the UK frogs have already start to spawn in garden ponds as early as January – though very much dependant on the weather of course. So if you have a garden pond then look out for spawn, and if there seems rather a lot of it then don’t worry – you almost can’t have too much as only about one in fifty of the unborn tadpoles will go on to be a frog. Your frog spawn questions answered.

3. Keep feeding the birds!

The further we get into winter, the further natural supplies of food are depleted. In addition, even a short spell of very cold and harsh weather can prove fatal for small songbirds, as they may struggle to find enough food even to keep warm enough to get through the long nights. So providing the right type of foods in conjunction with the right feeders can make a massive difference to songbird survival rates. And of course, the more birds that survive the winter then the more that can go onto breed in the spring. The best way to really understand the ideal mix of foods and feeders is to watch this excellent video .

4. Hedgehogs need help in more mild weather

Unlike birds, it’s when the weather is unusually mild in the winter that hedgehogs need help. The simple reason being that in an ideal winter when the weather remains cold, hedgehogs will hibernate until about mid-March. But with the sort of winters we now more typically get in the UK compared to past decades, big fluctuations in temperature which also see sudden and prolonged spells of very mild weather bring hedgehogs out of hibernation. The problem then is that there’s very little natural food for them such as beetles and caterpillars.

So if the weather is mild and you know you have hedgehogs in your garden or just visiting, then provide them with the right special food and, very importantly, a dish of clean water.

5. Keep an eye out for winter bird migrants

Although we often think of the migrant birds which come to our shores as those from Africa arriving here in spring to breed, there are of course a number of species which come here from northern Europe for the winter months. These species include those we’re anyway familiar with in our gardens such as Chaffinch, Blackbird and Robin, and it’s a nice thought that, for example, the Blackbirds you’re keeping alive with sunflower hearts and suet pellets might have come from a forest in Finland. However, there are also the species which don’t breed in the UK (or do but only rarely on in very small numbers), with these being Fieldfare, Redwing and Brambling. Of these, the only one you can attract to your garden with bird food is the Brambling, and they’ll often arrive in mixed flocks with Chaffinches. When the weather is very cold and especially when there’s snow on the ground, then Fieldfares and Redwings can also be attracted by putting out apples on the ground.

To find out more about these winter migrants and what you can do to attract them, have read of this fascinating blog post.

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