It may be wet, it may be snowing, but your local wildlife needs your help to survive through the winter. What small steps can you take to give hedgehogs, birds and other animals a better chance of surviving until the spring?
1. Tips on feeding birds in winter
Birds rely on their body fat to keep warm during icy cold days and sub-zero temperatures. That means they need extra fuel to keep up their fat reserves!
Have a bird feeder in your garden, and keep it full with seeds, fat balls, dried mealworms, and even thick slices of apple.
If you can, leave food out for the birds every day.
You can, in fact, make your own fat balls for birds. Simply get some lard or suet, mix with crumbs of cheese and dry porridge oats. Form the mixture into balls with some twine hanging through so you can hang your fat ball on a branch, if you don’t have a bird feeder. Then leave your home-made fat balls for birds in the fridge overnight to set. These fat balls will really help birds to build up their energy in the winter months. Other dry ingredients you can use include peanuts, raisins and breadcrumbs. Aim for a ratio of one part fat to two parts dry, and steer clear of turkey fat – it can coat the feathers of wild birds and spread disease.
You can store fat balls in the freezer, if you wish, then take them out and let them defrost in the fridge for a day or two.
You can also strew seeds on herbaceous plants and shrubs for the birds to find at eat at leisure.
2. Make sure wild animals and birds have access to fresh water in winter
Wildlife can’t drink frozen water, and birds and animals can struggle to find fresh drinking water when the weather gets icy. You can help.
Break the ice on birdbaths or ponds, if you have them. Violently breaking the ice or pouring boiling hot water straight on it can harm fish, so lay a pan or pot of hot water on the ice to melt it slowly. And stick around to see how it’s doing, or your pan might go right through the ice and cause havoc. TOP TIP: If you float a tennis ball or similar item in your pond, that will help to ensure that it will not fully ice over, which will benefit any fish, frogs, toads or newt using it as a winter shelter or resource.
Place shallow bowls of fresh drinking water out on the ground for animals – perhaps under a bush, so they can drink undercover and feel less out in the open and vulnerable.
3. Help hibernating hedgehogs at winter
If you have space in your garden, you might want to build a hedgehog house in your garden out of logs. You can even buy them on Amazon – and if you shop on Amazon via the easyfundraising app, you can donate to Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers without paying a penny.
Hedgehogs benefit from a fairly large space, dry underfoot, with ideally two chambers for protection, with dry straw inside. You can strew dead leaves around the house to make it feel protected, and also place your house in undergrowth or a private, protected spot.
Even though hedgehogs hibernate in winter they can sometimes wake up early. Easy food to give them includes non-fishy tinned dog food or a bit of freshed meat. Even scrambled eggs can benefit them – it’s all good protein! Only give them water, not milk, as milk is quite bad for them.
4. Help feed squirrels in winter
Squirrels do not hibernate in winter. However, their main food source is food they’ve stored and hidden away in autumn. That food could be damaged, or lost. You can help squirrels have enough food in winter by giving them beans, carrots, spinach, chopped apple, walnuts, hazlenuts and almonds.
5. Help frogs, toads and newts during winter
Sutton has plenty of evidence of frogs, toads and newts in the wild (see our Sutton newt survey in 2017). These wild animals aren’t just in nature reserves like Wandle Valley wetlands – you’ll find them all over the borough, including back gardens. They could benefit from your giving them extra care and support over winter. Frogs don’t hibernate, but they do slow things down and rise from their rest on warmer days to seek food.
Log and leaf piles give frogs, toads and newts and place to rest. If you arrange any spare rocks and rubble into a rock pile, this can also create a useful shelter.
Frogs, toads and newts also like compost bins. If you are giving your compost bin a forking, take extra care not to disturb or harm any animals that might be using it as a winter residence.
Some frogs like to rest in pond mud, so be sure to break the ice on your pond to support frogs, toads and newts as well as fish.
You could also go the extra mile to make a hibernaculum for frogs!
6. General winter wildlife gardening tips
Sometimes a really tidy winter garden is too much (or not enough of) a good thing! Let your garden get a little wild over winter, and you’ll be doing a huge favour to wildlife.
Animals can hide and hibernate in piles of leaves and wood you might be tempted to burn or clear away, so scoop any remaining leaves up to form a leaf shelter in a protected space.
You can collect your stems and logs to form a rotting pile that will be a perfect larder for grubs and an ideal home for insects.
If you’ve got a log pile, check it for hibernating hedgehogs before you use those logs for your log burner or firepit. If you see a hedgehog, try to leave it be.
There are so many ways to help Sutton’s wildlife in winter – and money isn’t required, just a little care.