Wildlife Gardening - Mammals and Birds Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Wildlife Gardening - Mammals and Birds

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The shield of the Sport and Leisure Faculty of the h2g2 University.
Wildlife Gardening - Getting Started
Introduction | Mammals and Birds | Woodland Habitat
Insects, Amphibians and Reptiles | Wildflower Meadow | Water Habitat
Natural Slug Control | Natural Weed Control | The Winter Border

Of the few mammals that live in Britain, most are nocturnal. Some are admired, and some are disliked, but all should be welcome in a wildlife garden.



Bats are protected by law in the UK, and are very rare in an urban garden.

The easiest way to attract them is to grow night scented flowers, and follow all the suggestions on how to build a wildlife garden, as this will attract the insects that they eat.

Building a rockery as a double-sided wall filled with straw will offer bats a place to roost, shelter the invertebrates that they eat and become home to many different mosses and lichens. It should be on a south-facing site, as bats need the sun's warmth during the day.

Bat boxes can be used, but there is no standard size or style. Different sizes are needed, depending on which species of bat are local to the area. A winter hibernation box will be different from a box used for roosting in the summer.

Do not be tempted to check to see if bats are roosting. As the law stands now, it is an offence to deliberately damage, destroy, or obstruct any bat roost, or intentionally disturb, kill, injure, or take any bat. A special license is needed to handle bats, although it is allowed to catch and release a bat found in the living areas only of a house, or to tend an injured bat with intent to release it.


To check to see if a hedgehog is in a garden, leave out a saucer of tinned pet food, making sure that domestic animals aren't eating it. If hedgehogs are found, stop feeding them. They are one of the few species that can tolerate the mucus secretions of slugs, and they should not be encouraged to eat anything else.

Encouraging hedgehogs to live in a garden is simply a matter of providing them with suitable places for them to hide during the day and to hibernate during the winter. In larger gardens, piles of leaves in hollows under trees or in banks is sufficient. And in any size garden they will make their homes underneath outbuildings if the space is dry and there is enough room. Hedgehog houses are easily built out of wooden boxes covered in polythene for waterproofing, with a big enough access hole or tunnel, filled with bedding material, and buried under leaves or logs.


Badgers are extremely unlikely to be found in a town garden, either living or visiting. They need access, and the average town garden is fenced off on all four sides. It is inadvisable to try to encourage them, as they are often killed crossing main roads.

Mice and Voles

These small mammals are likely to arrive by chance, although it is possible to make dormouse or harvest mouse homes out of tennis balls. This is only likely to work if the garden is close to woodland or common land. Leaving tall grass in the garden will encourage them to nest there, if they are already in the area.


Foxes are also likely to arrive by chance in big gardens. Urban foxes are usually more successful than rural foxes. When foxes are breeding in gardens, they can make a lot of noise, and can be rather strong-smelling, so it is not always a good thing to have them about. Visiting foxes can be fed dog food, and some people like to put worming tablets and vitamins into it.

Outside the UK

In other countries there are more mammals. Some ideas to attract them might be:

  • Clear snow from the garden so animals have access to food.

  • Scatter corn to attract grouse, wild turkeys and deer.

  • Provide salt licks.

  • Loose piles of pine needles around shrubs will encourage chipmunks to shelter on cold nights.

  • Leave cat food or suet out for racoons.

  • Fruit-producing plants will attract groundhogs.


The easiest way to encourage birds into the garden is to feed them. This can be done in two ways. Either put food out on feeders, or grow plants that will feed the birds or will support the insects they need. As birds can become dependent on feeders, they must not be allowed to run dry. Neighbours are often happy to refill them during the holiday season.

Bird Tables

These should be sited in a safe place, away from cover where cats could hide, and high enough to prevent cats jumping up on them. They should be situated not too near to the house but close enough to observe through a window, and close to a path to allow access for winter feeding. Food should also be left on the floor, in hangers, and pushed into crevices.

Sunflower seeds, wild bird food mixes, peanuts, raisins, cheese, berries, mealworms, and breadcrumbs will all be welcomed by different types of birds. Over-ripe fruit will also be enjoyed, and anything not eaten will be finished by insects. Food can be given the whole year, as many birds would not survive without it.


Most fruit trees and bushes will be enjoyed by birds, and you can leave a portion netted for human consumption. Not only is the fruit eaten by the birds, but also the blossom and the insects it attracts. Holly also feeds a great many birds when it bears its berries.

Some birds prefer dry seeds rather than berries. Birches, alders, pines, beeches, and ashes are good feeders, but can be rather large. For the smaller garden, thistle is a good plant, but legally classed as a weed in Britain. Wearing thick gloves, collect the seed heads and hang them over a paved area. Some seeds may blow into the garden, but most should be eaten. Sunflowers can grow a good crop of seeds in the autumn, but they don't begin to ripen until the foliage begins to die back. By then the plants can look very untidy, so a good idea is to cut the head off and hang it up like a feeder.

Nest Boxes

In an area where nesting sites are limited, nest boxes can be very successful. There are different types to suit different birds, so they should be chosen carefully for whatever species are local to the area.

They should be protected from wet winds and full sun, ideally in full shade, and reasonably well hidden, but not inaccessible. A minimum of two metres high should protect them from most ground-based predators, including humans. A good view from the box is essential for the birds to spot predators; and anything that can be done to prevent cats from entering the garden must be done.

Nesting Material

Although it is not necessary to provide nesting material for the boxes, it can be useful. Wool, feathers, dried grass, pet hair, and small sticks on a specially constructed table or hanging in a peanut feeder will be used, and it can be enjoyable to watch the birds take them. Some birds use mud for their nests, so keeping a patch of soil constantly wet will also be appreciated in spring.

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