RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch

PUBLISHED: 15:14 20 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:18 20 February 2013

RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch

RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch

Fen Gerry of the RSPB tracks down the secret lives of birds and beasts in wintertime

Footprints in the snow


Fen Gerry of the RSPB tracks down the secret lives of birds and beasts in wintertime


Its early morning and the snow is starting to settle, it flutters down, covering fields and frozen ponds its so quiet, as if its arrival heralds the need for a few precious, peaceful moments. And nothing moves the streets are deserted, the ice tightens on the canal, creaking and holding boats safely by the bank.


But if you really watch, and listen you will find that nothing in the great outdoors has stopped. Paw prints mysteriously appear, revealing secret paths and secret lives.


The tracks of a tiny field mouse, scuttling back to its family suddenly end; did she come across a very large and hungry badger sniffing the air in the dead of night? In which direction are they heading? How are they interacting with each other? Footprints in the snow can teach is a lot about the comings and goings of our wild, wintering visitors.


In the snow, the pad and digits of an animals paw print are clearly visible now its just a case of doing some investigative work. If you discover a paw print with five digits and a large kidney shaped pad you may have tracked down a badger have a look to see if there is any coarse white-tipped hair in the nearby fence.


An early walk along the riverbank might reveal another five-digit paw print with an almost round pad, and if the snow is soft and untouched, you might see evidence of webbing between the digits. This paw print could belong to the elusive otter, hopefully on his way home with an early morning catch.


Snow not only shows the tracks left by the feet of birds but the marks of their wings and tail as well. You can often tell something of their behavior by the marks of their wings; you might even be able to make out if a pair of birds flew away happily together.


This morning I spotted a trail of zigzags across the frozen canal, I imagined a young moorhen having an early skate, trying to impress his siblings. Happy tracking.


Sadly, its not all fun in the snow for our wild visitors. Birds in particular become more vulnerable and will search for safe refuge in our gardens. When temperatures drop below freezing, birds struggle to find the natural food they need to stay alive and have to rely on us.


To help our wintering visitors chance of survival, it helps to leave out food like meal worms, fat-balls, crushed peanuts, dried fruit, seeds and grains to compensate for birds natural food which is covered in snow and ice and impossible to get to. Birds enjoy our leftovers like cooked rice and the insides of cooked potatoes; they could provide a vital source of energy.


Over the weekend of January 30 and 31, you can take part in the RSPBs Big Garden Birdwatch which will provide vital information on how our garden birds are coping with the big freeze. Visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

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