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Prepare for more winter wildlife by doing less than normal in the bird garden!

Monday, 5th December 2016

It might feel like we’re experiencing the embrace of winter; however, we’re still in autumn (until December 21st) and if there’s one tip I’d like to share it’s this: prepare for winter in the bird garden by doing less than normal before winter bites. If you like the sound of that, please read on…
Yes, I know it’s December and there are all sorts of Christmassy things to do but a little time invested in housekeeping now will make life easier for you (and the birds) when the bad weather does finally arrive. And when I say ‘little’ I really do mean little.

Venture outside and you’ll be in good company as nature’s already preparing for winter; squirrels are caching seeds and foods (will they ever remember where they planted them?); some hedgehogs are hibernating and birds are frantically making the most of the dwindling daylight hours.
 
Leaves Autumn

It’s tempting to fire up the leaf blower, fill the hedge-cutter with fuel and cut back ivy growing on fences, sheds and walls – but I’d like to encourage you not to be as clinical as normal and to leave untouched wild spaces for foraging; for example, leaves on the ground may look unsightly to us – but they’re perfect for ground feeding thrushes to look for invertebrates. In the border, think twice before raising plant stems to the ground as they’re ideal homes for insects to overwinter. Let’s not forget that we’d like to see these beneficial insects back in spring as they’re pollinators and unpaid (organic) pest control.
 
Peacock Butterfly

It’s tempting to clean the inside of sheds in winter as no-one likes the thought of reaching into dark corners and being confronted by a spider bigger than a BBQ! However, let’s put those fears to one side and consider that butterflies may hide in the shed. I once discussed this with Bill Oddie during filming and he explained that ‘The four species that spend winter in their adult form are the small tortoiseshell, comma, brimstone and peacock.’ Leaving the shed as you found it might save any overwintering butterfly that’s judiciously found itself a place to hide away from cold snaps and snow. Let’s reward its prudence by leaving it alone.

So, what are those housekeeping jobs I mentioned previously?

- Think about how you’ll get to your bird feeder when the snow arrives. Climbing a sharp bank or rockery might be easy peasy lemon squeezy in autumn but could be dangerous when there’s frost or snow on the ground. If you’re going to move the feeder, now’s the time to do so as it takes the birds a few days to adjust to it.
 
Ground Feeder

- If snow does settle, think about how you might cater for more wildlife than normal. The ground feeding birds will thank you for investing in something like a ground feeder or – in an emergency – use an unwanted sheet of MDF/wood to create a very basic table-top. Rest it on top of the snow and sprinkle with bird food

- It might seem strange to say that birds require fresh drinking water during snowy weather; however, they do. Ask yourself how easy it is to fill the bird bath… Again, if it needs moving closer to where it can be accessed (by you safely) more easily, now’s a good time to move it

- Keep your bird food supply topped up – don’t risk running out. We’re all trying to watch the pennies (especially at Christmas) but your birds are already doing a local circuit of the gardens that offer food and they’ll be relying on these as lifelines. We’ll always do what we can to rush bird food out to customers – but it’s sad when customers phone and are distressed that their supply has vanished that much faster in bad weather

- If you’re topping up, consider a high-energy food (my birds’ favourite is Huskfree Advance with suet pellets during winter) and supplement this with additional suet treats – which I consider to be lifelines rather than treats

- The final housekeeping item is this: make sure you find time to watch wildlife this winter. Nature needs us, and we need nature. Enjoy the spectacle

Have a wonderful Christmas (when it does finally come).

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