February 2010 - Winter

Fieldfare - photo  by Lindsey Stephens

What a dreadful cold spell we have been having. Snow and ice are certainly not for me. Not only is our local community put at risk, but also our local wildlife. Birds may be unable to find the food, water or shelter they need and certain species may be wiped out locally. Kingfishers are one of those extremely vulnerable birds since they need to have access to ice free water to fish. Indeed many birds, such as field fares, are only seen in our gardens during snowy periods as they search for food, Ė particularly berries or other fruit left on trees.

By putting food and water out for the birds we can give them the best chance of survival. Fat balls, peanuts, a wild bird seed mix (all loved by many garden birds and squirrels), Niger seed (for gold finches), shelled sunflower seeds (especially loved by finches and tits), mealworms (particular favourite of robins, wrens and wagtails) are all gratefully received, with cut up apples or pears for the blackbirds. Bread, cake, cheese and dried fruits such as sultanas are popular with many birds. General food leftovers will be taken by gulls (and foxes), although there has to be enough access for the gulls to swoop down into your garden. We have a cascade into our pond, shut off for the winter months, but the top of the cascade makes a wonderful drinking pool for wildlife. So in icy weather I am out there often in my wellies melting the ice with a couple of kettles of boiling water.

Pheasant footprints in the snow

Footprints in the snow


I am always interested in looking at the footprints of furry or feathered visitors after a light fall of snow. Fox prints can be distinguished from cat prints as the former show claws at the end of the toes. Cat prints show no claws as these are retracted. Dog prints also show claws but toes radiate outwards unlike fox toes which are more compact and tend to radiate inwards. The fox print shows the hind pad as single lobed unlike the dogís which is tri lobed. The fox print also has a tendency to show hair in between toes and pad. Rabbit prints are easily determined by their hopping gait, and the fact that the hind paws are much bigger than the front ones. It is hard to tell different bird species from their prints although pheasant prints are unmistakably big in our garden, and gull prints are webbed unlike our other visitors. Deer prints are seen occasionally in our front garden and these have characteristically 2 halves to each foot.

Hopefully warm weather will come soon. Personally I canít wait! 


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