A firecrest is perched in the midst of a holly tree, surrounded by spiky green leaves and red holly berries

Nature's calendar: January

Though we're still in the midst of winter, there is still plenty of wildlife to see and enjoy in January.

Battling Robins

Ah the robin: that beautiful cute cuddly little bird seen in peaceful Christmas card scenes and the Netflix animation Robin Robin.  But all isn’t quite what it seems… 

 

Robins are actually tough as nails with fire in their belly as well as on their chest. A good feeding patch is well worth defending, and that is exactly what they are doing when you hear them singing in mid-winter or see them chasing off anything that might have an eye on their worms.  

Goldcrest on branch

The kings of the forests

The Goldcrest and Firecrest may be the smallest birds in Europe, but they are also kings! These unbelievably small birds are both in the kinglet family, with the Goldcrest’s Latin name meaning little king, while the Firecrest’s means fire-capped little king. Amazingly some of these birds fly cross the North Sea to winter in the UK, some stopping for a break on fishing boats or oil riggs. With their numbers higher, winter is the best time to spot them, especially in coniferous forests or parks with mature trees where they dart between the trees looking for tiny insects to feast on like a king.

A wren perched in a bush

Wee Wrens

Another of our smallest birds, the wren, is easier to spot at this time of year as they’ll be out frantically searching for insects to eat. The lack of insects and their small size makes them particularly vulnerable to cold weather, and in the most severe winters populations can dramatically decline.

 

Their scientific name is Troglodytidae which means ‘cave dweller’. This reflects their habits of nesting and searching for food in gaps and crevices. Many defend territories where they know there will be a good supply of food but the differences are often put aside on an evening when they come together to roost to keep warm.

Put up your Christmas nest boxes!

Did your presents include a nest box this year as well as socks? If so, now is good time to put it up. Many birds use them as shelter from the rough winter weather, with some boxes becoming little hotels as species huddle together. Amazingly 61 wrens were once found in a single box!
Putting them in place now also puts them on the radar of birds who begin to look for future nest sites, giving your box the best chance of becoming occupied with fluffy cute chicks come spring.

You can also check out our advice on making and placing nestboxes.

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla, adult female perched on lichen covered branch, January

The Winter warbler

The UK winter weather used to no place for a wise warbler. But now the sight of a blackcap is becoming more and more common, with many showing up in gardens. In fact that is one of the big reasons why they stay – because the snacks we put out gives them a reliable source of food - making up for the cold grey weather. If you want to encourage black caps to your garden, try putting fruit such as apples or fat in the branches of trees or your hedge.

Red fox sitting in frosted grass, with snow on it's face and whiskers

Frisky Foxes

It may be the middle of winter but foxes are turning up the heat. January is the peak of their breeding season and it is when they’re at their most vocal, with their screeches and screams echoing through the blackness and scaring the living daylights out of those trying to sleep. They don’t really mean any harm, they are just looking for love or fighting off rivals.

 

Once couples pair up they spend a few weeks patrolling their territory and hunting together, forming a strong bond. The female also seeks out a place to give birth to her pups once spring arrives. These could be in purpose-built dens or equally underneath your garden shed!

Owl of the Day

In the bleak mid-winter short eared owls can be spotted gliding over coastal marshes and wetlands hunting for small birds and mammals such as voles. What’s more, they are commonly seen during the day, sometimes in small groups, as they seek out, spot and then dive on their prey. While they breed in north of the UK, an influx of visitors from the continent increases their range in winter so they can be seen around much of the country.