How do they cope?

25 Jan
January and February are typically the coldest months of the year although in many years we don’t get too many frosts. Our wild animals deal with the short days and limited food supply in quite different ways.
Hedgehogs (the few that are still around) hibernate while Badgers don’t, they just pile on lots of weight in the autumn and sleep a lot!! Sounds a bit like me….
Lots of other residents hibernate such as bats, frogs and a number of butterflies. Some 6 species of butterfly hibernate as adults in garages, sheds and anywhere its dry. I know a few people in the village who have a number of butterflies move in every winter.
Many of our insect eating birds will have long migrated to southern warmer climates in Africa and southern Europe where there are lots of insects to eat. Some species of moths only appear in the winter as they know there will be very few birds that will eat them. Like many months, our winter moths have been given some wonderful names such as the Pale Brindled Beauty, Spring Ushers and Mottled Umbers.
Some our birds are resident all year around but research has shown that birds we often think as residents such as Blackbirds and Robins also migrate and are replaced by other birds from further north. A number of our winter resident birds only come for the winter as it’s warmer here compared to their summer home in Siberia and Northern Scandinavia. The Redwings and Fieldfares find lots of eat in our hedgerows particularly berries.
Over the winter a number of species of smaller birds will flock together including Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and various finches. They develop a regular feeding pattern each day and if they have found your bird feeders early in the season it’s likely you will have lots of visitors throughout the winter. If they haven’t found your feeders by now you may find (like me) you mostly get Jackdaws and Wood Pigeons. It often takes some really cold weather to cause this pattern to change.
While it’s really important you do put food out on a regular basis it’s also important to provide fresh water especially when there is a hard frost. A hard frost can kill many birds from the temperature but they can also die from dehydration as there isn’t any liquid water!!
If we get a really hard spell and the streams freeze over the Kingfishers, Herons, Moorhens and Egrets can really suffer as they simply can’t get to their food.
A couple of changes which has effected our farmland birds since the 1940’s is the increased efficiency of farming and changing planting times which results in less food over the winter. Over the last few years there has been a fascinating project on the Marlborough Downs where a number of local people have worked with cereal farmers. The farmers donate, or sell at a marginal cost, the poor quality grains that end up in the bottom of the hoppers and the volunteers carry out large scale regular feeding and the results have been really quite amazing. It started as a project to help the Tree Sparrows recover (they have declined by 93% since the 1970’s) and the population has increased significantly with many other finches benefiting as well. If any local farmers are interested in such an experiment over this winter please do let me know.
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