How does snow affect wildlife?

by Russ on February 9, 2013

Although beautiful, snowfall can present many problems for wildlife and people.In winter we always hope for a flurry of snow. That magical scene of slowly drifting flakes settling on our countryside can be truly inspirational. For us, winter can also mean turning the radiator up and putting on a few extra layers. But plants and animals don’t have that choice, so how does the snow affect our wildlife?

Daffodils are a typical spring flower, but can be caught out be snow if they start growing too early.Earlier this year, we talked about snowdrops and what time of year they normally bloom. The response we got from you, the reader, was that although snowdrops weren’t emerging yet, daffodils were already being seen as early as December! This could be due to the mild and rainy winter we had in 2012 which effectively tricked the plants and animals into thinking spring was just around the corner. When it got colder and the snow appeared, plants that had already started to bloom became submerged. Frost can cause serious damage to plants and photosynthesis becomes difficult.

Sparrowhawks will venture into gardens more in winter whilst on the hunt for their prey - smaller birds.With much of the ground being covered by snow, animals also find it hard to find food and water. In cold temperatures animals require more food to keep going, just as an engine needs fuel to keep running. The increased need and lack of food forces wildlife to take greater risks. This often means coming into closer contact with humans as we often put out or throw away valuable food which all sorts of wildlife can benefit from. This means that winter is actually one of the best times to see wild animals. Wherever the smaller animals go, predators are also due to follow. Hunters such as sparrowhawks and foxes will also brave a back garden in winter for the promise off a meal.

Hedgehogs hibernate from August to Spring, but warm winter weather can cause them to wake up too early.Many animals choose to sleep through the winter instead. This is called hibernation. Just like plants, these hibernators are waiting for a rise in temperature as a sign of spring. Sometimes, as with this year, there can be a mild patch of weather just before freezing conditions. This can be a very dangerous scenario as animals stirring from their slumber can get caught out in the snow with no food or shelter. This year there has already been an increase of 10% in hedgehog rescue cases where the animals have woken too early.

Birds will flock to your garden if you provide them with food. Seed, grubs and fruit are all brilliant for them.

There are ways however that you can help wildlife get through the winter. Firstly, you can offer shelter. This means that if any animals have woken up too early, they can quickly hide away again in your animal houses. Secondly, fresh water. Finding unfrozen water can become a major problems in the cold and by providing even a saucer of water, you will be helping numerous species. Finally, proving food will ensure your local animal community won’t go hungry. By making sure you offer a wide range of seeds, mealworms and fruit if possible, you can cater for all your local wildlife residents and you’ll be rewarded with some fantastic nature, such as this cheeky chappy.

Video by Simbirdcom.

Photos by John Barlow.

Don’t forget…

Leave a comment below about how your local wildlife is coping with the cold weather and you could be featured in next week’s blog! You can also send your wildlife pictures to:

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Take care, and stay on the wild side.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lee Pritchard February 13, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Hi Russ,
Very interesting read, as always.
On the subject of feeding wildlife, as cat owners we are not able to feed the birds. Also, as there are a lot of cats in the area it would not be fair to put food where cats have access. Is there any way around this?


Russ February 14, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Hi there Lee,
You’re quite right that the local tabby can prove a big problem for birds. If you have a cat yourself, one option is to attach a small bell to the collar which will make it easier for birds to hear your cat approaching.
There are also special ‘window bird feeders’ that you can buy that attach to your window making it difficult for cats to get at the birds.
You can buy these feeders from many pet shops and websites, such as the RSPB website here:
Happy birdwatching!


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