As autumn flows seamlessly into winter, our orchards are still full of activity. Windfalls provide a vital source of late food for many species of birds and mammals. Fieldfares, redwings, mistle and song thrushes, blackbirds, jays all have a liking for ripe apples, as do badgers, foxes, hedgehogs and hares.
Examining windfalls can provide useful evidence for who has been visiting the orchard. Thrushes, such as blackbirds, peck out the flesh through a hole in the side of the fruit until only the skin remains. Small, round peck marks belong to overwintering blackcaps and tits that flock through the upper branches feeding on the fruit that is yet to fall. Woodpeckers stab their beaks into the fruit leaving tell-tale dagger-like holes.
Many of our orchard visitors are nocturnal feeders so come and go unseen. However, they all leave their calling cards if you know what to look for; scrape marks in the ground, hairs caught in barbed wire and droppings. Badgers are particularly fond of apples. Although carnivores, they will feast on fruit in the autumn to build up their fat reserves for winter. Their droppings are left in shallow holes known as dung pits and when rootling in the ground for earthworms and insects they create distinctive ‘snuffle holes’.