Winter is a hard time of year for wildlife, there’s less food around and the colder weather means they need more energy just to stay warm. Inside our cosy homes, it’s also easy to forget about our gardens, but a little bit of time outside at this time of year can help make our gardens or balconies, a little more wildlife-friendly.
Many of these winter maintenance tasks are things that young children will love to be involved with. In this post we show you three ways that you and your children can help wildlife in winter…
Break the ice
Whilst it’s easy to remember that wildlife needs water in the high heat of summer, it’s equally easy to forget that birds and mammals also need access to drinking water in winter and at this time of year although it isn’t evaporating quite so quickly, access to it can be restricted by ice.
Children can help wildlife by filling a birdbath or drinking bowl in the garden and helping to keep it ice-free. You can do this either by breaking the ice regularly (which children will obviously enjoy!) or by placing a small ball, such as a tennis ball, on the surface. The ball will be propelled around the surface by the breeze and stop ice from forming.
If you want to take it a step further you could consider building a small water feature with a small solar-powered pump to keep the water moving and ice free.
For those who already have a garden pond, it’s particularly important to keep larger bodies of garden water ice free to provide enough oxygen to the fish or amphibians in it.
Feed the birds
Feeding birds might not be as straightforward as it may first appear. Different species like different foods and different food types will also meet different nutritional requirements during different seasons.
During winter birds will particularly appreciate high-calorie food like fat balls. You can buy these or make your own and if you’re going to go the DIY route, this is the best time of year to do it as the fat won’t go rancid in the cool winter temperatures. (Commercially made fat balls don’t have this problem)
Making fat balls for the birds is easy and simply involves combining warmed suet with birdseed and finding an appropriate vessel to fill. See this post for instructions and ideas
Feeding the birds doesn’t have to mean a trip to the shops and extra expense. According to the RSPB, there are many food items you may have in your kitchen which the birds will appreciate, such as fruit cake, nuts, pears and apples past their best and mild cheese.
And remember if you start a feeding routine in your garden the birds may come to rely on it, so try not to stop abruptly, particularly during winter.
Piles of leaves and vegetation can provide shelter and a safe place to hibernate for creatures like frogs, toads, and hedgehogs.
Children can help when you are tidying the garden by building piles of leaves under bushes or in a quiet corner of the garden. Even a small pile can make a home for an amphibian. Remember if you do gather leaves in this way or if you build a compost heap, try and leave it undisturbed until warmer weather arrives. Most animals will be out of hibernation by April.
Bugs are also looking for shelter at this time of year. You may find ladybirds hibernating in door frames of your house and woodlice under flower pots. If you want to help insects you can build your own bug hotel by piling up bricks and wood in a corner of your garden. You can also buy small ready-made bug hotels that make excellent winter shelter for insects. Involve your child in choosing the bug hotel and picking a quiet spot in the garden to fix it.
Birds need shelter too. Some will make use of bird boxes on very cold nights, but you can also buy reasonably priced roosting pouches made from woven fibres which provide a sheltered place for small songbirds to escape the cold.
If this post has inspired you to help wildlife this winter, we’d love to hear about it, share your photos and thoughts with us on social media by using the hashtag #littlegreenexplorers or leave us a comment below.