Winter is one of my favourite times of year. I love putting on a warm coat and gloves and going out in the crisp, cold air. For animals in winter the weather can prove more challenging, or even perilous. We’ve compiled a guide to giving animals a helping hand this festive season.
Birds may struggle to eat during the winter as trees aren’t fruiting and the ground is harder, making it more difficult to find bugs and worms to eat. Keeping your bird feeder well-stocked with a variety of nuts and seeds will provide them with a source of food, and provide you with some birds to watch from the warmth of your home. If you’re really keen to help feed the birds you could also leave out fat balls (with the nets removed) or even make your own using products like Fat Bird. You just put seeds into the holder and pour over used cooking fat. Once it’s set you have a tasty treat for the birds in your garden. It’s a great way to help nature while recycling waste fat from cooking (which there is usually plenty of around Christmas!) You could also consider putting out a bird box for a chilly bird to make their home in.
You should NEVER crack or quickly defrost a pond which has fish in it as the rapid change in temperature is extremely dangerous. You shouldn’t leave a pond frozen for too long as toxic gases can build up in the water over time. The best thing to do is slowly defrost the ice by placing a pan of boiling water on top of the surface. Do not tip the water out onto the ice as that will melt it far too quickly. Always keep pets away from frozen ponds as their body weight could mean that they break through, fall in and get stuck.
Hedgehogs are wonderful little creatures and, if you have one living in your garden, they help keep it neat and lush by eating pesky slugs, snails and other insects. By leaving a “wild” corner of your garden with some twigs, leaf litter and logs you can pay your hedgehog friend back. A slightly scruffy corner will attract the kinds of slugs and beetles that hedgehogs like to eat, as well as providing shelter. You can also leave out chopped up boiled eggs or fish-free cat food. One thing you shouldn’t do is leave out milk as it can give them diarrhoea; leave out a dish of fresh water instead.
Did you know that 25% of squirrels don’t survive their first year? Squirrels don’t hibernate but they do start to store food early so leaving out nuts slightly earlier in the winter will help them to store their larders. They use communal stores, so even if you only see a couple of squirrels in your garden you could be helping countless more!
Though you may balk at the idea of living outdoors year-round, rabbits actually manage very well in the cold if they are given the right housing. As long as they have plenty of bedding and a sheltered area that is insulated and sheltered from the wind they will be perfectly happy outside. In fact, bringing them into a warm house after they’ve been in the cold is more dangerous as the shock can prove fatal. If you would like to bring your rabbits inside for winter make sure they are able to slowly adapt to the change in temperature and have plenty of space in their indoor environment.
Guinea pigs thrive better in temperatures between 17°C and 20°C.While they can live outside in the winter if they have lots of bedding it may be better to bring them inside. Again, you’ll need to give them plenty of time to adapt to the change of temperature and environment so they don’t go into shock.