Throughout the country
we are likely to be experiencing very cold weather now, with
snow on high ground, widespread frosts and sometimes very wet
and windy conditions especially in coastal areas. Natural
food supplies for all wildlife are now very scarce, bringing
birds in large numbers to gardens and parks where urban
temperatures may be significantly higher than in the
surrounding countryside. However our winters do seem to be
becoming milder, and wildlife is responding to these changes.
Prolonged cold weather
can cause ponds to freeze up. This can create problems, not
just because there is no available water for birds and foxes
to drink, but a covering of ice may trap beneath the surface
gasses, created by the decomposition of decaying plants and
leaves. If the ice has not melted by the afternoon, thaw it
by resting the bottom of a saucepan of boiling water on the
surface, allowing the heat to gently melt a hole. Make sure
than bird baths and drinking saucers are emptied of their ice
every morning and topped up with fresh water. Birds need to
bathe even in cold weather. Keeping their feathers in good
condition allows them to retain body heat when temperatures
are at their lowest at night.
The concentration of
birds feeding and drinking in your garden this month may mean
more visits by your local sparrowhawk. These handsome
predators often take the same approach route though the garden
so if you wish, you can give the birds a sporting chance by
placing a few tall bamboo canes around the bird table or
feeders. Make sure there are shrubs or shelter of some sort
within a metre of your bird feeding area, allowing small birds
to dive for cover if a predator approaches.
January is a good month
to plan for the spring. In a small garden, in a window box or
on a balcony, containers can accommodate a wide range of
wildlife friendly plants including herbs, annuals, climbers
and small shrubs. If you are ordering seeds now use the
information elsewhere on this website to choose annuals with
nectar and pollen to attract butterflies, bees and hoverflies,
or try herbs and wildflowers with seeds for birds.
If you intend to grow
some wildflowers from seed this spring, you may have to think
ahead a bit. Many seeds, especially those of some of our most
attractive wildflowers require a period of cold before they
will germinate. Cowslips, primroses and oxlips in particular
will wait stubbornly for a whole year if sown in April, and
will only germinate after the next winterís frosty weather.
The trick is to sow them in pots now, and leave them outside
where the weather can work on them. Meadow cranesbill, green
hellebore, tufted vetch and birdís foot trefoil also all benefit
from this treatment.
If you still have some
gentle pruning or cutting back of shrubs or hedges to do, try
to complete it by the end of the month. Several common garden
birds, especially blackbirds and thrushes may be thinking
about nest building next month.