Feed Mammals

hedgehog feeding

Why feed mammals?

While it’s not advisable to make wild animals reliant on an unnatural food-source, when the weather’s really grim, it's a good idea to throw out some scraps to help their stores through the worst of the cold months. To help mammals in your garden without upsetting your local food webs, you can also encourage their natural food sources.

Feeding hedgehogs

The humble hedgehog is a joy to watch. It has recently been added to the endangered list in the UK, so there’s even more reason to give it a helping hand.

  • Hedgehogs are the gardener’s friend as they can't get enough of slugs and snails. Using chemicals to kill slugs and snails can be harmful for the wildlife which eat them, so employ a hedgehog instead.
  • If the weather’s bad, a bit of dry dog food usually goes down well. Or you can invest in some specialist hedgehog food from wildlife suppliers. Dusk is the best time as mammals feed at night.
  • Leave out a shallow and stable dish of water near the food.
  • It’s a myth – don’t feed hedgehogs bread and milk! It upsets their stomachs and can give them diarrhoea.

Feeding badgers and foxes

badger feeding
  • Badgers and foxes thrive on worms, slugs and snails. During hot, dry weather, turn over your compost heap (if you have one) to unearth them when they are hard to come by.
  • You’re very lucky if your garden is visited by badgers. They love unsalted peanuts or you can get special badger mix. Throw some out whenever the ground is dry and hard making it difficult to dig.
  • If you have a vegetable patch, be warned: badgers love root-veg! Leave out some cooked potato or fruit to divert them.
  • If you wake up to find your lawn looking as though someone’s been randomly digging for treasure, it’s probably badgers looking for earthworms. Take a look at how to minimise badger damage in deal with problem wildlife.
  • Be warned that badgers do sometimes see hedgehogs as a tasty meal.
  • It’s best to leave food in a quiet part of your garden, away from any dangerous areas such as pond edges. As badgers have a routine route for foraging, you might be able to predict what time they’ll visit each day.
  • Urban foxes love leftovers: 50% of their diet comes from handouts. They're fond of all sorts of kitchen scraps, including fruit (berries especially), vegetables and fresh meat. They’ll try most things, so don’t be surprised if you find them sampling the birds’ food.
  • If you come across buried food in your garden such as the remains of a small mammal, it may be a fox’s cache. The fox will be coming back to finish it, so if possible leave it where it is.

Feeding squirrels and other small mammals

mouse feeding
  • Bird food can attract all sorts of mammals; foxes, squirrels, rats and mice.
  • A wild, grassy area of garden is a great source of food and shelter for shrews and voles.
  • A feeding table makes a safe place for wood mice and other small animals to eat.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have red squirrels visiting, encourage them with pinecone seeds, berries and fruit. They’ll eat insects and eggs too.
  • A ‘tree hopper’ is a feeder designed for red squirrels. Hang it in a good-sized tree a couple of metres above the ground to help keep them safe from cats.
  • Feeding red squirrels is controversial – not all protection or conservation groups advocate it. So make sure you only ever supplement their natural diet.
  • If you have both red and grey squirrels in your area it’s not a good idea to encourage them to mix. Grey squirrels can carry the parapox virus which is fatal to reds.
  • Squirrels love unsalted peanuts (but don’t put out whole ones during the breeding season as baby birds can choke on whole peanuts), walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and apples. Carrots prevent calcium deficiency, which can be a major problem for young red squirrels.
  • Keep any feeding areas clean to prevent the spread of disease. Use boiling water or a specialist cleaning product.

Related downloads

Download PdfDownload the "Feed a Mammal" Pocket Guide - 284KB

Download PdfDownload the "Mammal Food Bingo" Activity Sheet - 96KB

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