Food and Shelter: Helping Wildlife Cope With Winter

If the thought of wildlife roaming your backyard gives you shivers, you’ve probably lived in the city for too long. When the days get chillier, and the food is sparse, the animals in your area will come to depend on your hospitality more than ever – and we’re not just thinking about skinny foxes rummaging through your garbage.

You can, in fact, help them gain some weight and look a bit healthier, together with the birds and hedgehogs who happen to live in your garden. A lot of animals have been affected by the turbulent weather, struggling to find food, and even taking care of their babies – your loving care is exactly what they need this autumn.

Give them a helping hand and turn your backyard into a wildlife haven; you get to enjoy the sight of those cute fox cubs tumbling around on the ground as a reward.

Wildlife habits

Your closest neighbours are many more than you may have imagined at first. They hibernate according to the availability of food and tend to emerge when it’s at its peak, looking for a suitable place to breed or nest. Frogs, for example, tend to get busy when the ponds have recently been thawed, while the regular birds in your garden will start to nest as soon as the amount of caterpillars to snack on is ideal.

Sadly, it’s not always like this, and recent years has seen some changes in their once so predictable habits. A few of them manage quite well still, sticking to their schedules and coping with winter just as they have before.

The other half, on the other hand, have been affected by harsh weather conditions and an inevitable lack of food.

Here is a list of the most affected species the last years, so that you and your backyard can help them out a bit this season. The more you’re able to do in the autumn, the better off they’ll be in the winter when the days get colder, giving them a better chance to breed when spring returns.

Helping Hedgehogs

Although we’ll try not to make this exclusively for cute animals, it kind of helps that hedgehogs are adorable. It’s been a tough couple of years for them, though, as they nest on the ground and their babies have struggled in areas that were affected by heavy rain and even flood.

As they feed on slugs, mainly, you’d think the amount of food available would be enough to keep them going – but the BHPS received several calls the last couple of winters from gardeners who found weak hedgehogs out and about during the day. It’s a sure sign that they’re not doing as well as they should.

Call the BHPS if you find one of them in your backyard as well, and it’s a good idea to tidy up a bit in your garden shed as they might want to wander in, making sure it’s nothing dangerous in there that can hurt them. The same goes for any lodges you have lying around; stack a log-pile purposely to shelter a tired hedgehog and inspect them for residents before you light the bonfire.

A small bowl of water and meat-based cat or dog food will also help a hungry hedgehog a long way as it needs to fatten up for winter. Place it somewhere the hedgehog is likely to wander off to seek warmth, such as on covered decks, close to the log-pile, or by the garden shed you just cleaned out.

Helping Bats

One of the animals that need more help than any is the infamous bats living in your area. They feed on moths and midges, but the quantities of rain during autumn and winter lately have made it extremely difficult for them to find enough food as these bugs can’t fly in the rain, seeing the Bat Conservation reporting a fifty percent increase in calls.

The ones calling in had found weak and exhausted bats, unable to fly and basically starving in the neighbourhood.

The tough weather conditions the last couple of years will quite likely affect the bat population considerably as they only give birth to one baby per year – usually around May or June which have been particularly rainy. When they can’t eat, they can’t breed – but you can, luckily, help them out this season.

Attract insects to your garden with a pond, for example, as well as plants with a lot of rich nectar. You can watch them swish around in your garden at night, eating their dinner, and treat yourself to a sense of pride as they’ll be able to breed and live thanks to you.

If you’re interested in becoming a bat carer, they’re in desperate need of people like you, and all bats are super cute in any way, so why not give it a go.

Helping Frogs and Toads

Amphibians have had a mixed couple of seasons, where drought in one area may have caused them to postpone breeding as the ponds dry out – while heavy rain later in the season has been a welcoming sight to frogs and toads.

If you’d like to make this winter a bit more pleasant on them, you can dig out a small pond in your backyard – or just clean the one you have already. Remember to top it up if it starts to look a bit dry, and consider placing a small tile on the bottom of the pond where they can warm up. It’s better to use rain water when topping up the pond, but if there’s no rain in sight, you can always use a small amount of tap water.

You can read more details on how to care for the frogs and toads in your backyard on this site.

Helping Garden Birds

Are you also on the lookout for baby thrushes and blackbirds as the first sign of spring? You’re not alone, yet a survey from a couple of years ago reported an almost thirty percent decrease in people who observed baby thrushes in their gardens. The numbers were the same for blackbirds and robins, by the way, so we might have to find ourselves another sign of spring in the future.

Unless we’re able to help, that is, which is exactly what we will do. The reason behind the decrease in baby birds lately is, according to experts, the cold and wet spring we’ve been treated to. Although a bit of chilliness and rain won’t bother them too much, sustained rain has made it very challenging for the chicks to survive.

We want to help them with getting strong and fit for the breeding season, so leave most of your garden clean-up for the end of winter. That way, you’re giving the birds a chance to eat up all the berries in your bushes and hedges, as well as finishing the apples on the ground. By cleaning it all up as soon as you fear winter is coming, you’re also taking away a lot of their food. Great how we can help by doing nothing, right?

After raking and gathering leaves, which you’re still allowed to do, by the way, you should gather them all up under the shrubs in your garden. Larvae and beetles like to hang out there, so you’re giving your garden birds a snack platter while making their space a bit tidier as well.

Helping Barn Owls

It seems like the wet and rainy spring has taken a toll on a lot of animals the last couple of years. The barn owls, in particular, have had difficulties with flying and hunting as mice are able to hear them in the rain and the owls are left without food.

After the heaviest rain this spring and last year, many baby owls were found dead or starving in their nests. Barn owls are usually able to produce up to seven babies in the spring, but this number has certainly taken a turn for the worse.

Ditch the lawn mower this autumn and leave a tall patch of grass, if not your entire garden, for small mammals to find shelter and food. You’ll be of even more help if you happen to live in a rural town as barn owls tend to forage over a wide area, and they’re quite likely to soar over your garden, looking for dinner.

Although knowing that your love and care will help generations of small hedgehogs, bats, and barn owls to thrive is reward enough, the life and warmth they bring to your garden is a great bonus too. Enjoy the sight of birds flocking together around your shrubs, keep an eye out for their chicks when springtime comes, and watch their babies grow up right outside your own home.

They’ll hang around for a while, that’s for sure, knowing that they can find food and shelter where you live.

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