Whether or not you believe in the predictions of Met Éireann or a certain Donegal postman, there’s a good chance of a cold winter (because it’s winter…) and even a couple of freezing weeks can be a problem for our wildlife. It might be harder to help reclusive shrews and unfeasibly cute dormice to eat, but we can help other creatures like birds and red squirrels to make it through the winter.
Pine-martens have been making a huge come-back in Ireland over the last few years and are once again one of our major predators. Martens don’t need much help from us; if we leave them alone they’ll find their own dinner and will eat virtually anything, which I found out when one got itself trapped in a friend’s house and ate half the kitchen before he caught it and released it later (you can hear it snarling at us here before we released it a few miles away). I mention the pine-marten here because, with their help, by hunting the invasive grey squirrel, the red squirrel has been making come-back too.
Red squirrels can do with a hand now and then though and if they are back in your area you could do worse than helping them to get a good foothold. They do store seeds and nuts for the winter but the stores don’t always last and are sometimes raided. Red squirrels don’t hibernate either so they need to eat. All the best advice suggests that putting up really serious feeders takes time, money and dedication because they have to be checked and cleaned a lot. But there’s a nifty little trick you can use to keep help them along and not only keep them out of reach of cats but away from your bird feeders. I got the idea from this site, which has more detailed ideas if you want to put the work into red squirrel conservation. Pick a high-ish spot on a tree a little below a branch point and hammer a nail in leaving most of it sticking out. Then just jam an apple onto the nail and leave it. You can replace it every few days. A seed ball won’t work because birds will just eat the lot but even frozen solid the apple will be a good source of carbs for the red squirrel.
I’ll take a look a some bird feeders it the next post but while I’m talking about squirrels, it’s worth noting that a squirrel will take all your bird feed in short order if you don’t protect it and I’ll leave you with this video of a squirrel-proof bird feeder defeating its raider . It’s more or less relevant but mostly cute and funny…