In winter our towns are magnets for wildlife header

Our towns are magnets for wildlife

As the days turn cold and the nights turn dark, David Lindo explains there's still sights to see.

Unexpected sights

At this time of year, most of us consider staying under a warm duvet a more appealing prospect than taking a morning walk around our neighbourhood looking for wildlife.

There’s nothing worth getting out of bed for, right? Just a shivering squirrel or a few grumpy pigeons squabbling over a crust of frozen bread on the high street? Wrong.

Winter is a great time for watching urban wildlife, and even a glance through your kitchen window might reveal something unexpected.

Find out why our Big Garden Birdwatch TV star, Ste, loves to take part in the city:

Ste

I do mine wherever I find it

"The birds are different in urban environments and there's still plenty to see - such as greenfinches, goldfinches, collared doves and wood pigeons. The Big Garden Birdwatch helps to monitor what wildlife is in abundance and even if you don't see anything, you're still taking part."

Steven Big Garden Birdwatch

Keeping warm in the city

Cities and towns are important refuges for wildlife during the harshest months, providing food and shelter. And because birds and mammals must concentrate on the business of staying alive, they give us barely a glance, enabling us to watch them at close proximity.

Of course, some species die before winter sets in, others opt to sleep it out or keep a very low profile, and those that can’t stand the cold abandon the UK for more hospitable climes. However, some of our hardier residents pile into cities to take advantage of the food and warmth on offer.

Gulls come from the furthest reaches of Eastern Europe to dine on generous hand-outs from bird lovers in parks and leftovers from bins.

In the hearts of towns, pied wagtails gather nightly in trees in carparks. Noisily sitting side-by-side, they come to take advantage of the “heat island” effect created by our brightly-lit buildings. These keep the temperature a few degrees higher than that of the surrounding countryside. It’s a perfect survival strategy.

Unexpected visitors

Winter heralds an influx of avian visitors that are often easiest to see in urban areas. Wanderers like redwings and fieldfares may be tempted to pay a visit to your garden if you put out apples and water, though they are more likely to be seen squabbling with resident song and mistle thrushes over berry-bearing bushes on country lanes. If you have succulent catoneater and rowan berries locally, you may be lucky enough to welcome a flock of waxwings to your patch.

The birds’ fondness for these fruits means that they can turn up in the most unexpected places. I’ve seen flocks in supermarket car parks, quiet cul-de-sacs and even on Tottenham Court Road, one of the busiest streets in London!

They often allow quite a close approach if you take your time walking up to them. Most birds, and mammals such as foxes and deer, are easier to see in winter, so don’t be surprised to find unusual tracks in your garden or encounter different water birds vying for scraps on your village pond.

These animals need our help during these cruel months, so keep putting out food and water, and make sure you shrug off that duvet and take a walk around your town or city looking for winter wildlife – I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.