Winter wildlife at home
In celebration of Naturehood's Winter Wildlife Month
As the trees lose their leaves and some of our favourite species curl up for hibernation, it’s easy to think that our Naturespaces are lying dormant. In fact, there’s plenty of life to be spotted in winter if you know where to look!
Hedges full of life
Over the winter months hedges become a highlight of many Naturespaces. Mistletoe and holly fruit through the winter, providing vital food and shelter. Berries and nuts from hedges can prove a lifeline for many birds, as well as mammals like badgers and foxes, as the frozen ground makes it more difficult to dig for worms and snails. Most animals will be happy to share, but if you hear the fluting call of a mistle thrush watch out for this bird jealously guarding its hedge full of berries. Remember that although these berries are a tasty treat for wild animals, they can be poisonous for people and pets.
If you don’t have a hedge already, then this time of year is a brilliant time to plant one! Just avoid days where the ground is waterlogged or frozen. You can plant a hedge using lots of different plants, but it’s best to think about your soil type and your own preferences. The RHS has some brilliant guidance and top tips. A few native species to keep in mind include rowan, holly, spindle, dog rose, elder, hawthorn, honeysuckle and ivy. Make sure you record the trees and shrubs you plant with our Naturehood action logs to contribute to our research.
Your hedges and bird feeders are a magnet for many different birds through the winter. Familiar finches, blackbirds and wagtails will be spending more time in flocks and will probably visit your space more regularly. You might also welcome some guests from further afield. Plants with smaller seeds will draw in migrating thrushes and waxwings, as they prefer to eat berries’ flesh, while the rare hawfinch is more interested in the seed itself - so berries with large seeds, such as hawthorn and cherry are their preference.
To attract the largest variety of birds to your space it’s best to provide a range of different foods. By putting out a range of seeds, fats and kitchen scraps alongside naturally growing berries, you can support a whole range of wildlife. Have a look at our birdwatching beginner’s guide to help get started. If you spot any wildlife that is unwell or dead please do report it to the Garden Wildlife Health forum, a network of vets and researchers working to combat wildlife disease.
Spotting the signs of life
As deciduous vegetation loses its leaves and dies back over winter, it becomes easier to see the signs of wildlife at ground level and even under hedges. One thing that this may expose are animal burrows and dens. Squirrels build dens at the base of trees and hedges or dreys - rough nest-like structures up in the branches. You have a better chance of spotting mouse nests, badger setts and the burrows of weasels and stoats. If you’re interested in learning more about burrowing animals or testing your knowledge then check out our burrowing animals quiz.
With more mud and maybe even snow on the ground it’s also a good time to look out for tracks, a great sign of life. If you’re lucky you might be able to make out some of the footprints and identify who’s been visiting, but even just rough track lines show that your space is hosting nightly visitors. Make sure that you share any photos of footprints you spot or animals that you capture on tracking cameras with us on Naturehood.