Look out of your window on a winters day and you may wonder where all the creatures are. Everything can appear quite still, however if you look a bit closer there is evidence of activity. Some plants and animals are happily dormant, however there are still those species that are going about their daily activities. 

Who are these industrious and resilient characters of the British landscape?

Some of the animals that are active during the winter months are:

  • Starlings - these birds often perform murmurations during the winter - they fly in a choreographed cloud that moves across the sky in dance. It is a truly wonderful thing to witness. Sites recommended by the RSPB can be found here.
  • Robins - you certainly know it's winter when this little fellow turns up. Interestingly both the females and males share the redbreast which is characteristic of this species. They are usually very aggressive about their territory which is often in gardens and woodlands.
  • Woodlarks - these streaky brown birds have a white eye stripe that curves towards the nape. They are usually found in eastern and southern England. Their song is rather pretty and can be heard here.
  • Short-eared owl - these predators have a mottled brown appearance and yellow eyes, and unusually, are seen during the daytime around moorlands and saltmarshes. Its call and distribution can be found here.
  • Green woodpecker - this stunning species really stands out with its green plumage and red cap. Of the three species of woodpecker in the UK, it is the largest and can be identified at a distance from its laughing call.
  • Squirrels - Our native squirrels are red squirrels. This species is distributed in parts of Wales, Northern England, Isle of Wight, and Scotland. In the 1800s the grey squirrel was introduced and is more commonly seen.
  • Fox - the red fox a night-time predator that may be seen during the day by the lucky. They either make a barking noise (male) or something akin to a scream (female). They live in burrows and interestingly mark their trails with the scent glands on their feet.
  • Mountain hare - in the uplands you may be able to spot the flash of blue-ish white coat as the mountain hare hotfoots it across the landscape. Some interesting information can be found here.
  • Deer - there are six species of deer in the UK with herds finding a warm place to see the winter through. An overview of the species can be found here.
  • Badgers - although this species becomes less active during the winter it does not hibernate. Badgers live in clans and share a territory that includes setts and latrines. Our blog explains more.
Starling, green woodpecker, robin, short-eared owl, deer, mountain hare, and red squirrel.

How to get involved with winter wildlife

This time of the year provides a perfect opportunity to hone your detective skills and we have just the right tools for you! We also have some top tips to help you track down animals.

Follow the tracks

These species above are often elusive and so you have to look for their signs. One of the best ways to demonstrate their presence is from the tracks and marks that they leave behind.

Deer footprint with my size 7 boot for comparison

Wildlife tracks in the snow or mud can tell you what kind of animals are frequenting the area and what they are doing. You can often find out what routes they are taking, if it is walking or running, and even if it has caught a tasty treat. You can even estimate how many animals have been in an area. It takes a bit of practice identifying tracks and so a guide is often useful. The FSC fold-out full colour guides are really good as quick references - you can get a set that covers a range of wildlife and their tracks, so that you can identify them when you see them or by the indications that they leave behind. The set includes: top 50 garden birds; British land mammals; British Mammal Tracks & Signs; British Bats and Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain, so should keep you busy all year round.

FSC Guide: British Mammal Tracks & Signs

When you find a trail you should look at the characteristics of the print and in doing so consider the material in which it is stamped. For example, if the ground is wet the print may be smeared and so the shape may differ slightly from what you see in guides. You should observe whether the print is round or elongated, how many toes are apparent, and if there are claw marks, and how big it is. Look at the tracks as a whole - is the track narrow and straight, are the front feet behind the back feet, are the feet side by side or staggered?

You should also look up and observe the surrounding - are there claw marks on trees or rocks, do any of the trees look like they have been gnawed or have they got small round holes in them? Do you see any hair on fences?

Catch footage

If you are confident that you have found a trail you can capture evidence of animal activity by setting up a trail camera. The Spypoint Force 20 Trail Camera is the most affordable of the Wildcare range. It captures images at 20 megapixels and HD video at 720p, and has an impressive 48 low glow LEDs which yield high-quality night-time images. Low glow means that they produce a red glow from the infrared emitters when the camera is activated, however, the glow is subdued to the point that it does not disturb the animal that you are trying to capture on film.

If you are not au fait with the use of trail cameras you can find our guide to common trail cameras here and our top tips and look at the range here.

Observe on the move

For those of you that enjoy looking for wildlife during a stroll, it is always good to carry a good binocular. A good guide to setting up your binoculars is provided below by Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Birds are quite commonplace in most environments so are good to start on.

Jessie Barry describes how to set up binoculars

Observe whilst enjoying a cup of tea

On the subject of birds, you can encourage them into your garden by providing them with some resources. The easiest way to do this is to set up some bird feeders containing either seeds or peanuts, and by placing some nest boxes in appropriate spots in the garden. Remember to keep your feeders and nest boxes clean as required.

However you choose to watch wildlife this winter good luck with it! Do let us know how you get on via social media.

All of the products linked to on this blog are being offered in collaboration with Naturehood, a community project from Earthwatch Europe which works to reverse wildlife decline, by empowering you to take positive action and connect with your community.

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Dr Julia Lock is a Technical Manager at Wildcare

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