Hibernation, migration and creating habitation

As winter approaches hibernation beckons for many animals such as hedgehogs and hazel dormice, but did you know many insects, including ladybirds, hibernate too?

Ladybird cluster L Barrack
Photo copyright Louise Barrack

Ladybirds may cluster together to hibernate over winter, finding natural places like under the bark of trees or hollow plant stems. Others choose to head into our homes, gathering in groups on windowsills and in other nooks and crannies. To help them find each other ladybirds release pheromones, leaving these chemical traces to attract others to their hibernation location. In the great outdoors ladybirds wouldn’t naturally come out of hibernation until April but in our central-heated houses they may be awoken earlier.  This means trouble for the ladybirds as there won’t be any of their favourite food, aphids, about in winter.

Your new house guests may be native ladybirds such as 2-spot or 7-spot but they are also likely to be the invading harlequin ladybirds from South-east Asia. Harlequins have voracious appetites and will even eat our native ladybirds.

Swanning about 

Harlequin ladybirds may be rather unwelcome arrivals but this season attracts more popular visitors, swans! In the UK we have swans all year round as Mute swans don’t migrate, though they may travel short distances to spend winter on favoured waters with other Mute swans.  The number of swans swells in the colder weather as Bewick’s and Whooper swans arrive at our shores. Bewick’s come down from their arctic breeding grounds around now and Whooper arrive from Iceland.

If you spot a swan there are some key details to help tell them apart; Mute swans are large with an orange beak whereas Bewick’s are smaller and have less yellow and more black on their beaks than Whooper swans.

What the birds want

Feeding water birds is a fun outdoor activity but make sure you choose the right foods! Bread is bad for ducks as it fills them up but lacks nutritional value, meaning they don’t forage for the foods they naturally need. If the bread goes uneaten it can attract pests and build up nutrients in the river instead causing algae to grow. So scatter a healthy alternative instead such as oats, frozen peas, sweetcorn or seeds.

Photo copyright Faye Dobbie 

If you’d like to feed swans they’ll eat wheat, corn, lettuce or spinach. Throw the food onto the water so that they can swallow water as they feed and remember to avoid feeding them on land. This teaches them to leave the water for food when they see people and this can bring them into harm’s way from cars or dogs.

Make a winter woodpile habitat

Brandon Marsh Log Pile Louise Barrack

If you have an empty corner in your garden then this is a good time to build a woodpile for wildlife! Collect logs and sticks and pile them up in a shady part of the garden. In time this will attract all sorts of insects and is just the sort of place for a toad or hedgehog to safely spend the winter. Your dead logs will also eventually sprout fungi – nature’s recycling system for turning dead wood eventually back into soil.

Louise Barrack


(Photo copyright: Swans at Earlswood Lakes by Roy Holloway)


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