Wildlife From Home: Winter Food

Haws by Sian Williams

On walks this winter, keep an eye out for berries, fruit and flowers advises Sian Williams, Senior Research and Monitoring Officer

The temperature has dropped, and it’s starting to feel like winter. Trees have lost most of their leaves, and a lot of our wildlife is less visible than it was in spring.  However, there are still some intrepid animals out there, which will be active all through the cold months, and will be searching for food to keep them going.

As well as keeping an eye out for winter migrant birds and late (or early) flying insects this season, why not look at things from their perspective and focus on food sources? Fruit and berries such as haws, sloes, crab apples, rose hips, and ivy berries are particularly important for birds including species like fieldfare, redwing, and blackbird. There has been a good crop of berries in many places this year. Try keeping track of how long this source of food is available, for example by regularly checking a local heavily laden hawthorn, and noting when the last haws disappear.

 

Pollen and nectar are important winter food sources too, although they are much scarcer now than in summer. Some insects are active all winter, and small birds such as blue tits will eat nectar as well. On warmer winter days, you might spot species like hoverflies, honeybees or bumblebees (buff-tailed bumblebees in particular are increasingly staying active all winter). Why not have a look and see how many plant species you can find in flower on a lunchtime walk, or whether you can find at least one species in flower each month over winter? 

Yarrow, hogweed, bramble, dandelion, white dead-nettle and cock's-foot flowers in November.

Some of the plants in flower seen on a lunchtime walk in November 2020: yarrow, hogweed, bramble, dandelion, white dead-nettle and cock's-foot.

(Photo by Sian Williams)

Don’t forget to record your sightings of plants and animals with your local records centre. These records and the dates they were made can help us to understand the challenges species face in winter, and the changes in food availability that may result from different weather patterns due to climate change. Records can be used to help with research looking at how species habits, migration dates and life cycles may be changing. Follow these links for more information on recording in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Northamptonshire.

Upload your photos of winter food sources to our monitoring and research Facebook group and if you need help with ID, just ask! Please tag your photos #wildlifefromhome on Facebook and Instagram.