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Winter Wildlife Care

Robin in tree

There’s a lot of animals without owners who also need our support and help this winter – mainly the wildlife in your garden. With a number of our native wildlife species in decline, it’s actually simple to give them a helping hand at surviving the upcoming winter.

Hedgehogs:

The mild winter has meant that, this year, many hedgehogs have had three litters of hoglets instead of two.  This third litter now face a race against time to ensure that they have reached the required 600g weight to survive their upcoming hibernation. We can help by providing food in our gardens.

The simplest thing to give to hedgehogs is cat or dog food – this is nutritious, cheap and easy to find. Go for the jelly options and avoid fish flavours as they are not too keen on these. Dried food such as cat biscuits (the kibble in these is the right size for hedgehogs whereas dog ones can be too big) is also good as it assists with good dental health for the hedgehogs.

Whilst you may put food out for hedgehogs, it can be difficult to ensure that  its the hedgehogs who actually get to eat it! Large mammals such as foxes and badgers, neighbouring cats and birds may also fancy a free dinner. You can get around this by buying or making a hedgehog house for them. If you’re really lucky the hedgehogs may even decide to move in for the winter. You can get inspiration for your own hedgehog house by following this great ‘how-to’ guide from the BBC. 

Did you know? Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, so please don’t give them milk to drink as this can make them very ill. The same goes for bread – this has no nutritional value to them.

Birds:

There’s a huge range of foods available for wild birds. It’s most helpful to provide them with a mix of foods to include seeds, dried worms and suet to offer a balanced diet and cover the largest possible number of species.

Birds really suffer when the water freezes in our bird baths. Help them out by pouring the remaining contents of your kettle into frozen bird baths whenever you boil it. Although this is a short-term fix in weather where water freezes quickly, it does give them an opportunity to drink.

Falling leaves and bare trees can mean that birds lose important cover from predators. If your cat is a hunter, think about adding a bell (or a second bell!) to their collar. You could also install bird boxes. There is a wide array of boxes available which are designed for different species of birds. Try a good pet store if you would like to purchase these.

Squirrels:

Squirrels don’t hibernate but they like to create stashes of food when times are plentiful to cover the lean winter months. They’ll be very pleased to be given a nut dispenser to forage from and will also welcome fresh fruit.

Squirrels are clever little creatures who will make off with every feeder you put up if you are not careful. If you want to stop them, make sure you go for feeders with small gaps in the feeder. Alternatively, look for a special ‘squirrel resistent’ feeders.

Badgers and Foxes:

Badgers love eating earthworms but these are difficult for them to get to when the ground is frozen. You can give them dried mealworms as an alternative. Badgers also love peanuts.

Foxes, as scavengers, will eat pretty much anything you give them! Try to avoid providing them with their complete dinner as this will be bad for them in the long-term if you have to stop. Also avoid giving cooked bones as these may splinter in their throats. Instead, give foods to give them a bit of a boost like fruit (yes, really!).

Top tips:

  • Be careful when moving piles of leaves as these can make lovely dens for animals to live in. Leave these undisturbed throughout winter and they’ll provide a great hibernating spot.
  • Consider all the different needs that your visitors might have. Make sure you offer them different foods at different levels.
  • Never pour boiling water directly into a pond to melt the ice as you may kill any fish or frogs that are living at the bottom of the pond. Instead, place a hot pan onto the surface of the pond to melt slowly.
  • Give the wildlife a regular, steady of source of food so they are not left hungry if you stop. However, make sure that you don’t provide so much that they become completely dependent on you.
  • Consider what hazards animals may have to encounter to get to your garden. If you live on a busy road or have a territorial dog then it may do more harm than good to actually encourage wildlife to come to you.

What if I have a wildlife emergency?

If you think you’ve found an animal in need of medical care, we’d advise calling the Wildlife Aid 24 helpline on 09061 800 132 or Tiggywinkles wildlife hospital on 01844 292 292. 

Alternatively, call your local wildlife centre for help and advice on how to progress. There is a useful list here: http://www.animalrescuers.co.uk/html/ukwild.html

Posted February 10, 2015 in Seasonal Care

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