Animals to watch out for this winter
We don't think of winter as being the best time of year for wildlife: it's cold, the days are short and food is scarce. But given the right conditions, animals can thrive, and the winter can bring some unexpected wildlife watching joys to your garden, particularly if you create the right environment.
Your garden can be an important habitat for wildlife. With food hard to come by in the wild, food from humans, be it deliberate feeding or a byproduct of modern lifestyles, has become a vital part of their diet for many animals. The most famous example of this is of course the fox. These clever, resourceful and adaptable animals have long since moved into towns and cities all over the country, attracted by the many food sources available. The best time to spot them is dusk, when they start venturing out to feed under cover of darkness.
Many mammals and amphibians spend their winters hibernating, but some will be out and about over the winter. Mice try to put on as much weight as possible in autumn and then limit their activities over winter, you may spot a field mouse or harvest mouse on the hunt for seeds and insects. Badgers do the same, and can also be seen in the garden if there is a food source available. You can encourage wildlife into the garden by leaving a few areas untidy and not sweeping all the fallen leaves away; animals love a bit of garden debris, both for shelter and as possible source of food. Badgers in particular enjoy trying to root out hibernating insects. That great opportunist, the Grey squirrel, is another mammal that you might see in the winter garden, particularly if you have a bird table or a feeder full of nuts. If you should see a hedgehog out and about it needs to be cared for, as it's young and hasn't put enough weight on to hibernate, keep it warm and contact a wildlife refuge.
The quintessential image of the garden in winter, though, is a bird table full of birds scrambling for food. Birds don't hibernate, and common garden species such as the robin, blue tit and great tit are frequent visitors to the garden table. But they're not the only ones. Many woodland birds will range further in search of food in the winter. Those clever corvids, Jays and Magpies, can be regular visitors, and Siskin's can be regular garden visitors. Woodpeckers appreciate feeders, as do most species of finch. Put out a wide range of food to attract the widest range of species: high fat foods like suet and sunflower seeds will keep birds warm over the winter.
Another source of winter food is fallen fruit, throw windfalls onto the lawn to encourage blackbirds and thrushes who love nothing more than to peck at a discarded apple. So don't think of it as a barren time for wildlife, if conditions are right, your garden can be lively all winter long.