Looking back on winter in the wildlife garden

Winter is passing; how was it for the garden wildlife?

Photo of garden with snow

Winter is all about survival for resident and visiting garden species; reproduction is on the back burner – but not for long. It’s all about finding enough to eat and trying not to get eaten.

It’s been a somewhat mild and wet winter here on the south coast of England, but with a week or two very cold snap, and snow just about everywhere. But there’s always plenty of wildlife activity in this particular garden,

Sparrows are my great favourites, all year round. Even in the coldest weather I hear their din of cheerful sounding chatter at the start and the end of each day. I change the seed feeder to a suet block cage at the very coldest times. Blue-tits are on this as soon as the sparrows leave it. Other birds feed on the bits dropped to the ground below: especially the pair of blackbirds, he chasing her away – he’ll change his tune soon, for spring – and the robin, who holds this territory and sings all year round to achieve that.

The food I supply like this is only supplementary; there’s plenty of natural food in the garden for most of the year: insects, nuts, fruits, berries, foliage and roots. The blackbirds have also been eating the last of the decayed windfall apples, getting inebriated on the alcoholic content, and the ivy and holly berries which they’ve had to share with visiting flocks of Redwing from Scandinavia. On warmer days, bumblebee queens have come out of hibernation to sip on nectar from the winter flowering Mahonia. The grey squirrel has been looking for the hazel nuts she buried in the autumn, and not always finding them, so that we get a forest of new saplings to give to others for their wildlife gardens. The woodmouse has been gathering seed fallen from the feeders too, but also raiding our apple store.

Predators have been around too. Foxes are making their bloodcurdling winter calls as they work up to mating. The visiting sparrow-hawk snatches the occasional unwary sparrow, evidenced by a neat circle of its feathers on the ground. When this happens the other sparrows keep a low profile for a couple of days, staying under cover when  making any noise.

The hedgehog has been hibernating, but will be out and about soon. We’ve had to rescue a very young one that was out and about in the cold and didn’t have enough body weight to get through the winter; the local animal rescue centre stepped in, and will release it, fattened up, when hibernation time is over.

Photo of hedgehog in care

It’s been a good winter; most of our garden residents and visitors have survived. And spring is definitely on its way. Watch this space…

Photo of cobweb with frost

Gerry Thompson