4 December 2020

Winter wildlife in your garden

Can you spot these animals in your garden this season?

By Katie Avis-Riordan

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) in snow

Winter may be known as a time for hibernation, but many forms of wildlife can still be seen in our gardens throughout the colder months.

Your outdoor space can offer essential food, shelter and habitat to these creatures, from colourful birds to mischievous mammals.

Whether your garden is big or small, the more varied its plant life the better.

This helps boost biodiversity and attracts a wider range of wildlife.

Enjoy nature close to home this winter and look out for these critters in your garden.

Beautiful birds

During the winter season, birds will visit your garden for much-needed food, water and shelter.

Trees and shrubs are great for our feathery guests as they provide nesting areas, while some species produce winter berries and fruit that birds can eat.

Fruit-bearing plants also add a pop of colour to your winter garden, such as holly (Ilex aquifolium), rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), juniper (Juniperus communis) and blackthorn (Prunus spinosa).

As natural food sources are diminished in the colder months, adding a bird feeder with seeds and fats to your garden is also a brilliant help for these winged winter visitors.

A water feature, such as a pond or bird bath, will attract birds and other wildlife to your outdoor space, providing a place to drink and wash.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) in winter
Robin (Erithacus rubecula) © Vincent van Zalinge/Unsplash

One of the most iconic winter birds to watch and listen out for is the robin (Erithacus rubecula) with its famous bright red breast. Robins sing all year round, one of the few birds in the UK that do, so enjoy this seasonal musical treat.

Other noteworthy native birds you may spot in your garden are the chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), blackbird (Turdus merula) and goldcrest (Regulus regulus).

Keep your eyes peeled for migratory birds that travel to Britain in the winter in search of food.

These include the beautiful redwing (Turdus iliacus) and waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus).

Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) in winter
Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) in winter © Regine Tholen/Unsplash
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) on branch
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) © Vincent van Zalinge/Unsplash
Blackbird eating berries on a tree branch
Blackbird eating berries © Chris Child/Unsplash

Hibernating creatures

Some animals escape the chill and hibernate during the cold winter months, such as hedgehogs and dormice.

They may still be in your garden but hidden from view.

Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) hibernate in nests made from fallen leaves, or find a sheltered spot underneath logs, compost heaps or garden sheds, usually between November and March.

The miniscule hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) hibernates throughout winter in nests on the ground, curling up in a ball and wrapping its tail around itself for warmth.

This species lives mainly in woodland or farmland so are more likely to be found in country gardens. 

Did you know? Wakehurst is part of the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme (NDMP) to help with the monitoring and conservation of this rare species.

After the temperature drops, frogs, toads and grass snakes may be hiding in your garden, nestled up in compost heaps or other warm secluded spots.

Hedgehog in a leaf pile

Mammal visitors

Grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

One common visitor to British gardens is the grey squirrel.

In winter, these non-native rodents are less active but don’t hibernate and will use their bushy tails as a cosy wraparound blanket when sleeping.

Grey squirrels will collect nuts, acorns and seeds in autumn and bury them in preparation for the colder season when food is less available.

These sneaky mammals are easy to spot in your garden and you may catch them stealing food left out for birds.

Grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) on tree trunk
Grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) © Kev Kindred/Unsplash

Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Winter berries are a food source for many animals this season, including the omnivorous fox (Vulpes vulpes).

As well as fruit, foxes have a varied diet and eat rabbits, rodents, insects, birds and scavenge in rubbish bins.

You’re more likely to spot a fox in your garden around dawn and dusk when they are most active.

Foxes mate in winter so are particularly noisy with their barks, screeches and howls. So even if you don't see one, you may still hear them. 

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) in snow
Fox (Vulpes vulpes) in snow © Ray Hennessy/Unsplash

Badger (Meles meles)

Though a badger’s ideal habitat is woodland and countryside, these nocturnal animals can survive in urban environments and may visit your garden during their hunt for food.

Omnivorous, their favourite grub is earthworms but they’ll also eat invertebrates, small mammals and fruit.

Did you know? Badgers are the biggest land predator in the UK.

These black-and-white mammals are less active in winter but look out for signs of their presence, such as paw prints and claw marks in the soil.


Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

Rabbits are not native to the UK but are now common and widespread here.

During winter, they feast on bark, bulbs and grass. You may notice strips of bark removed from the lower parts of certain trees.

Rabbits shelter in underground warrens but you might spot their fluffy white tails as they hop about above ground in search of food.

Read our top tips on how to make your garden more biodiverse

Frost at Kew

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