Wildlife in Winter

During the winter, wildlife needs more help than ever. 

Simon Milne, the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Chief Executive, says,  “When the ground freezes, ground-feeding birds such as dunnocks and thrushes, are prevented from accessing the invertebrates they usually rely on for food.  Equally, frozen water bodies could prevent ducks, otters, water voles, and wading birds from feeding or behaving as normal.  Small birds can find it tough to find berries in amongst snowy shrubs and larger birds and mammals will find it more difficult to hunt for prey.

“In these conditions, our wildlife could be restricted in their movements and food supplies could quickly dwindle as competition increases.  You can help by simply clearing areas of snow so that wildlife can access the ground underneath or by providing food for them which is similar to the food they would eat in the wild.  Make sure feeders are free from snow and that they are placed at a safe height above the ground to avoid attacks from domestic animals.

“For birds use a variety of food types such as bird-seed mixtures, fat-balls, mealworms (adored by robins), fresh coconut or even mild grated cheese which is favoured by dunnocks. The greater the variety of food the greater will be the variety of birds you attract to your garden. Who knows you might even be rewarded by a visit from the brambling – a colourful winter visitor from Siberia and Scandinavia.

“Please avoid putting out mouldy or desiccated food, cooked porridge oats, milk or fat from cooking as these can be harmful to birds. And remember to put out a shallow bowl of water to enable birdlife to access water when their normal sources are frozen.”

Speaking on behalf of Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, a partnership project led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Tayside Project Officer Ken Neil said,  “If you are lucky enough to have red squirrels as visitors to your garden, please help make sure that they have plenty to eat.  Peanuts (not salted or dry-roasted), hazelnuts or a branded squirrel mix will be welcome additions to put out with the bird food.”

On a more positive note, winter isn’t all bad for Scotland’s wildlife.  Moles and voles and other underground creatures could be finding snowy weather quite cosy, as the snow will act as a layer of insulation and protects them from predators.

Winter can also be a great time of year to see and hear wildlife. Look out for the tracks and signs in the snow and try and identify who made them, listen for Tawny owls as they start their noisy courtship, and if you get the chance, visit a coastal or inland water wildlife reserve to see spectacular numbers of geese, ducks and swans.

Donna Mathieson, People and Wildlife Officer for the Scottish Wildlife Trust, says,  “If you would like to help out wildlife, why not fill up your bird feeder, or if you don’t have one, make one from an old water bottle. You can also get messy in the kitchen and make your own “bird cake” by mixing suet or lard with seeds, cheese, and dried fruit.”

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