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March and April in the wildlife garden

We might not quite be out of the woods when it comes to cold winter weather and even a covering of snow, but come even early March there are strong signs of Spring in nearly every corner of our gardens. And once we’re into April, we can look to the skies for the first glimpse of swallows returning from their epic winter migration to South Africa.

March and April are busy times in the wildlife garden – both for the wildlife and for us, as we respond to the change in season – so with this in mind, here are some tips and advice on what’s important for the next two months or so.

Providing nesting material

We all tend to think that the important things to provide our garden birds with is food and water, plus places for them to nest, but in the early spring there’s another important consideration: nesting material. This is especially important in more urban areas, as natural materials such as dry grass and sheep’s wool etc. just isn’t going to be readily available for birds to collect. So the simple solution is to provide the perfect Nesting Wool which will be readily taken by most species of garden bird.

Compensating for the annual natural food gap for garden birds

In particular during March but also into early April, this time of year sees the biggest shortage in natural food for the birds which visit our gardens – most of which are of course species of woodland birds. This shortage is because last season’s fruit, nuts and seeds have largely all been eaten, but it’s still too early in the season for many species of invertebrate to have emerged or to have bred and therefore be available for birds to eat. This means that putting out food such as sunflower hearts and suet products is more important than ever.

Resist cutting back those perennials for now

Most people who manage their garden with wildlife in mind will have left last year’s growth on perennials with the view to cutting it back this spring, and this to not only protect the plant from frost but also to provide habitat for invertebrates and therefore food for birds. With the longer daylight hours and with a little more warmth in the air, it can be tempting to start tidying the garden up and in particular perennial plants. But it’s best to leave this task until later in March and into early April, as by then the very worst of the frosts should have come to an end and the invertebrates will anyway be emerging – and notably ladybirds.

Cutting back dead stems and foliage on perennials in the spring does though require much more care than if carried out in the autumn, as obviously there will be new growth coming through which shouldn’t be cut or damaged at all.

Look out for hedgehogs

With the somewhat extreme fluctuations in temperature we’ve experienced this winter across the country – and notably the record-breaking warm weather at the end of February – chances are that hedgehogs will have been in an out of hibernation several times. But when they emerge in March or into April, this would normally be for the last time for the season – and they’ll be hungry when this happens. So have this special Hedgehog Food ready for them, and of course a shallow dish of clean water.

Time to think about putting live mealworms for nestlings and even early fledglings

Although the key time to start providing live mealworms for garden birds is late April and early May, there are some species that typically breed earlier and therefore will very much benefit from a supply of this energy and moisture-rich food. The blackbird is the best example, with females often sitting on eggs by early to mid-March, and fledglings appearing on lawns waiting to be fed anytime in April. Interestingly and as an aside, blackbirds tend to start nesting around two weeks earlier in gardens compared to woodland – which is likely to be a consequence of better food supply. So if you see signs of blackbirds nesting in your garden, or indeed robins which are also early breeders, then give them a helping hand by providing live mealworms to feed to their young in the nest and the fledglings shortly after.

If you haven’t fed live mealworms to the birds in your garden before and have questions about doing so, then have a read here for everything you need to know.