Winter can be a tough time for wildlife as they face numerous challenges in their struggle for survival. The season brings about a myriad of issues, from harsh weather conditions to scarcity of food resources resulting in many birds and mammals malnourished or struggling to keep warm. In the midst of these challenges, Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital is busy treating many of the seasonal wildlife casualties across West Sussex. In this blog, we will explore the issues that wildlife in the UK are faced with during winter and find out how Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital are providing much needed warmth and overwinter support to hundreds of these struggling wild animals.
Scarce Food Resources
Throughout winter, wildlife may struggle with food shortages. For this reason, lots choose to hibernate and rise again once temperatures and food sources have increased. Some species don’t hibernate, but continue to struggle to stay alive and use up fat reserves very quickly just to stay warm.
Many garden birds need a calorie-rich diet in order to maintain fat reserves. You can help them by leaving out supplementary food such as bird seed mix, fat balls, suet and sunflower hearts. Some birds are also partial to festive leftovers like mince pies and fruit cake – make sure to keep these out of reach of pet dogs as some ingredients can be toxic. In addition, birds need to wash themselves every day so make sure any ponds or bird baths are not frozen over. You can further help them by leaving out an upturned bin lid or plant saucer of water.
Healthy hedgehogs can survive in extreme temperatures but they cannot survive without food, and this is the main reason that they hibernate. During the winter months, a hedgehogs natural food sources start to disappear. The answer for the hedgehog in times of famine is to hibernate. However, due to depleted food sources many hedgehogs do not gain enough weight in time for their big sleep or they are late autumn juveniles resulting in them being too small to survive the long winter months.
Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital plays a crucial role in treating and rehabilitating hedgehogs and other animals who are found struggling in the winter due to malnourishment. The hospital provides vital overwinter support to over 200 hundreds hedgehogs, offering them a second chance at survival.
Cold Weather Casualties
Cold weather can affect wildlife in various ways, and while many species have evolved to cope with seasonal changes, extreme or prolonged cold conditions can pose challenges. Freezing temperatures can lead to the formation of ice on bird baths, ponds and other water sources, limiting access to water for wildlife. This can be particularly challenging for birds and other animals who stay active throughout the winter months. Cold temperatures may also exacerbate respiratory issues in wildlife. For example, birds with pre-existing respiratory conditions may be more vulnerable. Weakened immune systems due to malnutrition or stress can make wildlife more susceptible to infections or nasty illnesses too.
The dedicated team at Brent Lodge Wildlife take in dozens of bird casualties during the winter. Many will require veterinary medicines to treat underlying infections or heavy burdens of parasites. The tiny garden birds found, malnourished and cold will be kept warm in incubators and hand fed until stable and strong enough to be rereleased. For those who are not strong enough to be released may remain in the care of Brent Lodge until the spring.
Consider constructing simple shelters in your garden or local green spaces to offer respite to wildlife seeking warmth. Hedgehog houses, for instance, provide a snug retreat for these spiky companions in early November as they go in search of a hibernation spot. Additionally, placing fresh bedding material in bird boxes can offer a cosy refuge for feathered friends during the cold nights.
If you encounter an animal displaying signs of cold-related distress, such as lethargy, heavy burdens of ticks or an infection, act promptly by contacting Brent Lodge or your local wildlife rehabilitation centre. Transport the struggling animal to the centre as soon as possible, ensuring that they receive the professional care needed to recover. Please do not be tempted to care for them yourself.
Overwinter Support to Migratory Birds
Winter is about arrivals and departures, as many birds leave for warmer temperatures or many coastlines welcome hundreds of species of birds arriving from colder parts of the world. The above winter challenges pose significant threats for migratory birds and their long journeys. Reduced food resources, depletes energy reserves, increases their susceptibility to illnesses. Birds need to eat as much as possible to ensure they survive the migration journey. Some almost double their weight before they leave. It takes a huge amount of energy for a bird to travel thousands of miles on their winter migration. Changes in land use and habitat loss reduce resting areas and as a result many are found grounded or exhausted, making them more suspectable to illnesses or predator attacks.
Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital provides overwinter support to struggling migratory birds who otherwise would have not survived their journeys. This beautiful female wheatear for example, was brought to the hospital in November with a damaged wing. They are spring and summer visitors to the UK for their mating season and typically fly back to Africa for the cold winter months. Sadly, due to the condition of this female’s wing, she will be unable to make this journey this year and will remain in the care of the hospital until she is well enough to do so.
Collisions with Vehicles
The darkened roads, illuminated only by the glow of headlights, become treacherous passages for wild creatures navigating the night. Dark winter nights pose risks to wildlife on roads, leading to increased collisions. Reduced visibility makes it challenging for both drivers and animals, raising the likelihood of accidents. Nocturnal wildlife or night time visitors, such as deer, owls, badgers or foxes, may become disoriented by vehicle headlights, increasing their vulnerability. Collisions with animals can result in injuries or fatalities for thousands of wild animals each year.
If you encounter an injured animal on the road, act swiftly and with care. If it is safe to do so move the poor animal to the side of the road, create a warning to drivers to reduce their speed and contact Brent Lodge or your local wildlife rehabilitation centre for guidance on the next steps. Large powerful animals such as deer, badger or foxes may need to be rescued by more experienced professionals.
Once in the care of a wildlife hospital such as Brent Lodge, these casualties will require pain relief, antibiotics and wound management as a minimum but some may require veterinary procedures or surgeries to fix their wounds or broken bones. Weeks or even months of rest and special care will hopefully enable these animals to get back on the feet. After they are deemed fit and healthy they will be released back to suitable habitats. Unfortunately, in most cases their injuries are too severe and these casualties become fatal. Even if the wounds can be fixed the stress on these fragile animals can be too much and can result in the animal deteriorating very quickly.
Mitigation strategies include warning signs, wildlife corridors, and reduced speed limits in known wildlife crossing areas. Raising awareness about these risks and encouraging responsible driving practices during the dark winter nights is crucial for wildlife conservation and road safety. These measures not only protect wildlife but also contribute to road safety for all inhabitants. Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital actively engages in educational initiatives, spreading awareness about the potential dangers posed by roads and promoting responsible driving practices.
As well as supporting wildlife this winter consider supporting Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital, who are busy caring for hundreds of casualties and need additional resources to see them through. This collective effort fosters a compassionate coexistence with wildlife and contributes significantly to the care and rehabilitation of wildlife in need to get them healthy for release.
Volunteer your time, skills, and energy to assist with animal care, rehabilitation, and administrative tasks. Financial and food donations play a crucial role in covering veterinary care, medication, food, and facility maintenance costs, ensuring the hospital can provide quality care.
Raise awareness about the hospital's work through social platforms and advocate for the importance of wildlife conservation. Organise fundraisers such as charity events or online campaigns to gather donations, and consider donating supplies or equipment that the hospital may need.
Engage in educational programs and collaborate with schools, community groups, and local businesses to promote understanding and appreciation for local wildlife.
Advocate for wildlife protection and conservation measures in your community, and make a long-term commitment to supporting the hospital for sustained impact.
By Asha Park