WINTER is not an easy time for wildlife, with freezing temperatures and icy soil forcing animals to search further afield for food.

Frozen ground makes it difficult for birds such as the snipe and water rail to use their long beaks to probe for soil invertebrates and so they may be more obvious in the open as they search for food.

As the ground along the coast often remains ice-free due to the warming influence of the sea, it can become an invaluable refuge for many birds you might more usually see inland. Freshwater birds, such as herons and kingfishers, are often seen by the shore in winter, especially when rivers and streams are ice-bound.

Kingfishers can adapt well by plunging into rock pools in search of small fish and crustaceans, so it’s worth keeping your eyes open for their distinctive flash of blue and orange.

You can help garden birds survive the winter by making sure you keep feeders well stocked, especially with fatty foods like suet, fatty bacon rinds and lard, which will give them the most energy to enable them to keep warm.

Some mammals, such as bats and dormice, hibernate to avoid the lack of winter food, but animals like voles, shrews and mice will tunnel deeper underground to avoid frozen soil.

Moles use their permanent deep burrows, which form complex networks hundreds of metres long, during low temperatures.

This behaviour not only avoids the colder conditions above, but also means food is easier to find as earthworms and invertebrates also burrow deeper to avoid the cold.

Garden ponds can provide animals with a much needed water when natural supplies may be frozen, so if you have one make sure it doesn’t freeze up.

Floating a lightweight ball in the water will often work – the ripples caused by its bobbing up and down, even in a gentle breeze, will often keep a patch ice-free.

When very cold weather is upon us, remember to check your pond and break the ice if required.

Hot water poured on it will often do the trick.

In spite of the difficulties of simply surviving at this time of year, Tawny Owls have other things on their mind.

Because they breed so early in the year, winter is a time of intense activity for them.

Male Tawny Owls, having established their breeding territories in November, will continue proclaiming ownership with their familiar hooting calls throughout the winter months.

Listen out for them around woodlands around 9-10pm and at dawn. During January, firmly established pairs will be in their territories and the male courtship of feeding of the female, offering her voles and mice, will be well underway.

By late February or early March, the female should be strong enough for egg-laying and incubating her young.

The Wildlife Trust protects over 700 hectares of nature reserves in North Wales, campaigns for the protection of wildlife and invests in the future by helping people of all ages to gain a greater appreciation and understanding of nature.

To support the North Wales Wildlife Trust or find out more, contact 01248 351541, e-mail or visit the website