Wildlife struggles to survive the icy winter freeze - but we can all help

Friday 2nd March 2018

Blackbird in snow by Margaret Holland

Winter can be harsh for wildlife. Food is hard to find, water freezes and sub-zero temperatures sap energy. Cities provide some respite to the icy cold, as they are usually warmer than the surrounding countryside, but current conditions will be proving very difficult for wild animals.

A shallow dish of warm water provides a vital drink when everything else has frozen solid...

Wildlife copes with the challenge in different ways. Small birds hunker down in shrubs, the smallest, such as long-tailed tit, huddling together at night. Deer settle in herds under trees. Grey squirrels take to their treetop dreys and doze through the worst of the weather.

Animals that hibernate, such as hedgehog, are in a dormant state and saving energy, rather than vainly looking for food. Foxes and badgers, on the other hand, keep mobile, searching for scraps to sustain themselves. 

Frozen lakes and ponds can prevent waterfowl feeding; ducks swim in circles to keep a patch of water free of ice, providing space to dabble and dive. Birds that normally avoid the city fly in, often in sizable flocks. Fieldfare, redwing and waxwing may all make unexpected appearances in the planted shrubberies of retail carparks, where they feed on the last of the season’s berries.

Commercial bird foods such as sunflower seeds, unsalted peanuts and fat balls are a lifeline for many garden birds, but they will also take grated cheese or raw porridge oats.

Dried fruits are also welcome, whilst halved apples or pears will provide a feast for hungry thrushes, tits and starlings – and they are not fussy about ‘past its best’ fruit. A shallow dish of warm water provides a vital drink when everything else has frozen solid.

Dog or cat food will provide welcome nourishment for many birds, as well as foxes and even suburban badgers, which will be struggling in these conditions.

Winter can be a beautiful time of year, but it can also be brutal. We work hard to protect London’s wildlife, but more helping hands are always welcome!

Join London Wildlife Trust now

Blackbird in snow by Margaret Holland

This is an edited version of London Wildlife Trust's Wild London column, published in the Evening Standard Friday 2nd March 2018.