Life-savers for winter wildlife in cold snap | Knutsford Times

Life-savers for winter wildlife in cold snap

By on December 1, 2010

Robin (c) Paul Bunyard -

The Cheshire Wildlife Trust is joining with other conservation groups in calling for people to remember their garden wildlife during the current record-breaking wintry weather.

In particular, one of the most surprising and overlooked lifesavers for wildlife can be fresh water – an easy to forget aspect of helping many creatures when we are surrounded by snow.

“It really can be a case of snow, snow, everywhere, but not a drop to drink” says the Trust’s Tom Marshall. “With the deep freeze we are currently experiencing, all but the biggest lakes and fast-flowing rivers will become impenetrable ice-rinks and this can be a real problem for many of our garden birds who have a diet largely based on seeds. Many species require additional water at this time of year, which they gain naturally in summer through their insect diet.”

Water is also crucial for keeping feathers and plumage in perfect condition, another vital aspect of remaining warm during the plummeting sub-zero overnight temperatures. Birds often ‘puff-up’ their feathers in cold weather to create a layer of air that can be warmed close to the skin, resulting in the common image of a fat-looking robin on Christmas cards.

A number of species also rely on shared warmth during harsh weather, with birds such as the wren – weighing in a just a few grams, sharing space in nestboxes during the winter. In one study several years ago, over 60 wrens were recorded leaving a standard-sized nestbox on one chilly morning.

The unusually cold weather can however, result in some unexpected garden visitors such as the recent sightings of waxwings, and other northern visitors such as fieldfares and redwings.

Tom added: “Putting out food and providing water during the next few weeks may not only mean the difference between life-and-death for some species, but you may also be rewarded with some new feathered friends in the backyard”.

The Cheshire Wildlife Trust is recommending the following top tips:

–       Provide warm fresh water daily in a shallow dish, but NEVER use anti-freeze or chemicals to stop freezing.

–       Sunflower seeds, peanuts (unsalted) and nyjer seed are ideal for finches, tits and sparrows.

–       Apples can attract blackbirds and winter thrushes such as fieldfares and redwings.

–       Fat balls and ‘bird-cake’ are ideal for summer insect-eaters such as blackcaps, goldcrests and if you are especially lucky, great spotted woodpeckers.

–       Grated cheese, porridge oats and pastry are ideal kitchen leftovers, but avoid dry bread wherever possible.

–       Winter is a great time to put up a nestbox, not only in readiness for spring but to provide an overnight refuge for some of our smallest birds such as the wren.

Cheshire Wildlife Trust has teamed-up with one of Britain’s leading wildlife-friendly bird food providers Vine House Farm, with every purchase made from contributing to Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s conservation work across the region. In the last year this partnership contributed over £2,400 to the charity’s work.

You can find more wildlife-friendly gardening advice at

Photo Robin (c) Paul Bunyard –

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