Winter is a busy time in the orchard. Once the trees have entered dormancy, it is the perfect time to plant new bare root trees and do some formative and restorative pruning on apples and pears. It is also a wonderful time to enjoy the wildlife that venture into the orchards for food and shelter. The windfalls provide a valuable late food source for many birds and mammals.
From October onwards orchards are an excellent place to observe the flocks of migratory fieldfares and redwings that arrive in this country from the Scandinavia and Russia. These cousins of the thrush that will overwinter here can be seen foraging in the orchards and hedgerows that border them for berries, insects and worms.
Buzzards and other birds of prey take advantage of the bare branches and the improved visibility they offer in their feeding grounds. From a high perch, they can be seen dropping down on to their quarry – usually small rodents or rabbits. These hunting perches are fiercely defended.
Mistletoe thrives in the open habitat of traditional orchards. The white berries are unattractive to most birds. However, they are a welcome larder for mistle thrushes and the occasional waxwing, but also the increasing number of blackcaps that are now choosing to spend the winter here instead of flying further south.
Fallen apples and other fruit are also an important energy source for mammals. Deer, hare, badgers and hedgehogs are frequent visitors to orchards at this time of year where they feed on windfalls to build up the fat reserves that will get them through the winter months.