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Wildlife Calendar - December


In winter, there is a different kind of attraction to the wildlife garden or local countryside. Deciduous trees and shrubs are bare and the land may be covered in a layer of snow, creating a bright and distinct background for the observation of wildlife.

From the comfort of your house, you may use your binoculars to watch the activities of many varieties of birds without leaves to obscure the view. One of the best ways to record the wildlife that visits your garden is to check the soft ground and snow for tracks and signs. Footprints that are left by foraging mammals and birds can be photographed and identified using a guide (such as Animal Tracks and Signs - Natural History Pocket Guides – by Preben Bang). Further evidence of animal activity includes feeding signs, such as plants, fruits, seeds and prey, as well as droppings and pellets. Take care not to disturb wildlife, but by identifying the presence of particular species, you may be able to help them by providing supplementary food and nesting material.

Among the birds to look out for this month, lapwings (or peewit, named from its call) gather in large flocks on wet cultivated land. Siskins and redpolls congregate on alder and birch in search of catkins, and the short-eared owl, a visitor from Iceland and Scandinavia often hunt in daylight over coastal areas hunting for rodent prey. The most iconic sign of December is the Robin, who appears to be tame and sings happily throughout the winter. The main reason for this behaviour is to establish a feeding area and early definition of their breeding territory. To help their plight, you may provide them with an open-fronted nest box, a natural log nest box or this fantastic teapot nester in advance of the spring.

December is the traditional month for coppicing, which is the cutting of species of trees and shrubs (such as hazel, hornbeam, alder and willow) to ground level to encourage multiple, flexible stems to grow up from the base. This tradition has been carried out since pre-history, proven by archaelogical finds. The resulting stems may be used for weaving, to create fencing or grown into larger poles for use in buildings or furniture. The tightly packed stems offer protection to small mammals, birds and insects, and since the tree remains low growing in an otherwise tall-tree forest, the increased light allows more vegetation to grow on the forest floor.

Tasks for December:

  • Top up your bird bath with water and break the ice on frosty mornings
  • Offer suet, sunflower hearts and nuts to birds in winter – all high energy foods
  • Feed the birds throughout the winter, do not stop as they become dependent on you
  • Keep your feeders clean using a disinfectant to avoid parasites and diseases
  • Provide shelter for wildlife including log piles, rockeries and straw bales
  • Clean out nest boxes for roosting and in preparation for spring