Your garden could be home to a whole host of wildlife you are not aware of, from butterflies to deer, birds to snakes. It could be a hive of activity, a wildlife metropolis. Why not invest in a camera trap so you can see what goes on during the night as well?There could be hours of entertaining footage - and a few surprises...

Here's a guide to what could be visiting - and living - in your garden throughout the year

Garden wildlife to see in January

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrels have an extra spring in their step in the New Year as courtship chases get underway. Excited by a female’s scent, a male voices his amorous intentions with noisy chattering, stamping his feet and flicking his tail.

She tolerates this for a wee while, before leading her admirer on a harum-scarum chase, spiralling round tree trunks and racing up and down boughs, keeping him just out of reach. The excitement is too much for other males, who soon gather and join in. But the female always has the upper paw. She may lead her scrambling suitors on for a couple of days before deciding which one is fit to mate with her.


Orange, white and black is a combination that can mean only one thing – a brambling. So keep your eyes peeled for this chaffinch-sized visitor from the Continent


In winter, treecreepers join mixed tit flocks as camp followers. They generally stay towards the back of these follow-my-leader parties, moving through large, leafy gardens in search of food.

Velvet shank

Velvet shank is frost-resistant and one of the few fungi that grow in winter. Its velvety stems sprout from dead wood from autumn onwards, and are topped with orange-brown caps.

Golden shield lichen

The golden shield lichen loves areas high in nitrogen, so thrives in polluted air and under bird feeders. Stones and patios enriched with bird droppings help it to obtain its nitrogen fix.

Garden wildlife to see in February


Most small birds begin their courtship rituals this month, but bullfinches are long-term partners, spending winter as a devoted pair. It’s unusual to glimpse one of these white-rumped beauties without finding a mate in close attendance.

In recent years – like goldfinches before them – bullfinches have developed a taste for city living, tempted by sunflower hearts and other seeds in garden feeders. And there are signs that urban top-ups in winter may be helping to offset long-term declines in the countryside. But bullfinches keep their country ways in town: these shy birds prefer thick bushy cover that replicates rural hedgerows.


On rare days of warm February sunshine, greenbottles come out to bask on walls and fences. These flies provide welcome glints of emerald in the all-too-often drab winter landscape.

Spring usher moths

February also sees the emergence of spring usher moths. The wingless females – like maggots with legs – stay on oak trees, but you may find males resting by day on any tree trunk.

Common toad

Something stirring among the flowerpots or in the wood pile could be a common toad. Having been roused from hibernation, it will soon be following a time-honoured route to a breeding pond.

Wood mouse

Late-winter stocks of bird food in the shed are vulnerable to raids by wood mice. Hunger draws the rodents out into the open, too – you might see them feeding on fallen seed under your bird table.

Garden wildlife to see in March

Muntjac deer

In a growing number of gardens, the first flowers of spring are being nipped from the bud by a cloven-hoofed invader. The muntjac deer has been an adept, highly mobile coloniser ever since it first escaped from Bedfordshire country estates in the 1930s. An introduction from Asia, it has not only pattered on tiny feet as far north as Hadrian’s Wall, but has also developed a taste for suburbia.

This diminutive deer, about the size of a border collie, steals into gardens to browse blooms and shoots. It hides for much of the day, lying up in thick undergrowth, but bucks give themselves away with courtship calls. Halfway between a man’s shout and a throaty cough, these have earned the species its other name: the barking deer. Breeding occurs year-round, so the young can be seen in any month.


Male chaffinches are now tuning up for spring, delivering ‘weet’ calls from prominent perches. If it’s a mild month, they may start their full song: a tumbling jumble of notes with a final flourish.

Chestnut moth

One March moth to look for is the chestnut, which has distinctive round-edged wings and often visits sallow blossom. The females will soon hunt for birch and oak leaves on which to lay their eggs.

Large black slugs

Rising temperatures trigger the emergence of baby large black slugs. They hatch from eggs laid four to six weeks earlier, in a sheltered spot such as a compost heap or under loose soil.

Dark-bordered bee-fly

A disconcertingly long proboscis gives the dark-bordered bee-fly the look of an insect unicorn. It has a hover-and-dart flight as it feeds from primrose and other low-growing flowers.

Garden wildlife to see in April


Blackbirds may have two, three or even four hungry mouths to feed this month. It’s a tall order for any bird to keep its fledged young fed, but complicated domestic arrangements make it doubly so for this species. Watch an adult stuffing worms and insects into the youngsters’ bright yellow gapes and you’ll notice that it is always the male.

Where is his mate? Blackbirds adopt a division of labour, so while the male cares for the juveniles, the female is incubating the next clutch. Unless he dies, she only helps to feed the year’s final brood (often the third), produced when sun-baked lawns make it harder for one parent to find enough earthworms.

More like this

Gawky young blackbirds fledge at 13–14 days old, before they can fly. They beg for food from the male for a couple more weeks.

House martin

April brings fork-tailed house martins back to surburban skies. They will feed up, pair up, and only then begin collecting mud to build or repair their cup-shaped nests under the eaves.

Large white butterflies

From mid-April, female Large whites are fluttering around gardens. They are drawn to the smell of brassica plants, on which the female
lays her yellow eggs shaped like tiny bowling skittles.


Backswimmers are sculling around garden ponds again this month. Like all true predatory bugs, they pierce prey – often tadpoles – with tube-like mouthparts to suck out their victims’ insides.


Bugle produces a dense mat of underground runners that, from April to early July, send up clumps of blue, orchid-like flower spikes. Their nectar is popular with green-veined whites and orange-tips.

Garden wildlife to see in May

Speckled wood butterfly

The year’s first generation of speckled woods are now on the wing. Despite their name, these butterflies often visit gardens, especially those offering dappled shade and a bramble patch.

Cockchafer beetle

This month, dusk brings out cockchafers on thrumming wings. The so-called ‘May bugs’ are males in search of mates – drawn to artificial light, they may repeatedly bump against windows.

Biting stonecrop

Starburst blooms among cracks in walls and concrete are biting stonecrop, which flowers between May and July and is loved by bees. It’s a hardy, succulent-leaved plant that needs no soil.

Ground beetles

By day, glossy black ground beetles hide under flowerpots or rocks. At night, they are active hunters that patrol the patio, with the unappetising habit of vomiting on prey to soften it.

Red mason bee

A year in solitary confinement ends this month when red mason bees break out of their nesting chambers. Each shatters the mud plug its mother used to seal the cell where it developed. Its adult life lasts six weeks (if that).

The male bees just mate and die soon afterwards, but the opposite sex lead a frenetic existence. Once a female has found a suitable hole, she lays a single egg inside, then flies back and forth collecting pollen and nectar. Squeezing into the cavity, she fills the cell with a sweet, sustaining mash.

Solitary by both name and nature, she will have nothing to do with her offspring, simply blocking the entrance with mud and searching for another hole in which to lay again.

Garden wildlife to see in June


On sultry June nights, huffing, puffing and snorting can be heard in a select number of British gardens. Hedgehog courtship is a noisy affair, though the spiky suitor remains silent for the most part. It is the female that makes loud protestations as she resists his advances.

She rebuffs him by using a fence or water butt as contraception, pressing her rear against it.

The face-off may last an hour or more, and the commotion sometimes attracts a rival male. If the female acquiesces, mating is a cautious procedure of arched backs and flattened spines. Her mate will stay for a few hours at most, playing no part in raising his late summer babies. Let’s hope a successful hedgehog breeding season helps counter population losses sustained during the long winter.

Great spotted woodpecker

Juvenile great spotted woodpeckers fledge from their tree-hole nests in June. The distinctively red-capped youngsters will stick together for a while, squeaking to keep in contact.

Noctule bats

Female noctule bats are very busy this month feeding young: look for starling-sized shapes with a direct flight style. Children and some (mostly younger) adults may also hear their calls.

Buff-tip moths

When is a twig not a twig? When it’s a buff-tip moth. Roosting by day, it fools predators by looking like a piece of broken birch: the perfect stick insect. The species is on the wing from June to July.


June is a good month to look for ‘cuckoo spit’. It is produced by froghopper larvae, which suck plant stems, then blow bubbles of sap from their rear ends to create a frothy mass in which they hide.

Garden wildlife to see in July

House sparrow

In the heat of summer, house sparrows flock to the ground to bathe. Judging by the whirring wings and noisy chirruping, they seem to enjoy these communal bathtimes. But sparrows are quite unusual among British songbirds in cleaning themselves using dust as well as water. They burrow their bellies into bare earth, and shower their heads and bodies with wing-flicking clouds of dust.

Scientists still argue about what purpose ‘dusting’ serves. One plausible theory is that birds are trying to rid their feathers of parasites and the oil produced to maintain their feathers that has now gone stale. Around the world, dusting is most often seen in ground-living species such as gamebirds and sparrows, and in birds adapted to life in hot, dusty open steppe, such as larks.

Leafcutter bees

July is a good time too bserve leafutter bees chomping out discs of leaf to tile their nest cells. They will lay a single egg in each. Look for the sealed cells in hollow stems, canes or parasols.

Wolf spiders

Also this month, keep an eye out for female wolf spiders carrying eggs under their bellies in silk papooses. After hatching, spiderlings ride on their mothers’ backs for another week or so.

Currant clearwing moth

One of our most unlikely-looking moths, the currant clearwing, is on the wing in July. Transparent wings and yellow bands on a black abdomen give this insect a wasp-like appearance.

Large white butterfly

Caterpillars of the large white butterfly are now at large. Planting nasturtiums is said to divert the egg-laying adults so that the larvae ignore your veg beds; equally, it may mean more butterflies next year!

Willow sawfly

Red blisters on willow leaves are evidence of chemical warfare. The willow sawfly injects its eggs, plus a chemical that makes the tree surround them in soft tissue: food for the caterpillars.

Wasp beetle

The wasp beetle is an even better mimic than the currant clearwing moth. This harmless nectar-feeder even copies a wasp’s jerky, sideways walk and twitching antennae.

Garden wildlife to see in August

Common frog

Gardeners risk playing ‘green reaper’ during the summer emergence of froglets from ponds. Many of these mini amphibians suffer death by mower or strimmer in the great exodus. No bigger than 10p pieces when they leave the water, they seek the damp shelter of long grass, or hide under moist vegetation in flowerbeds. Here, they indulge in an orgy of eating: each froglet must gobble enough tiny insects, slugs and snails to quadruple in weight if it is to survive hibernation.

The few young common frogs that manage to escape the attention of foxes, hedgehogs, rats, domestic cats and other predators disperse far and wide, travelling up to 500m from where they hatched. So if you dig a new pond, it won’t be long before frogs find it.

Grass snake

A sudden swishing through lush waterside vegetation is all that most of us hear – never mind see – of grass snakes. Terrifying to some people, yet totally harmless, these reptiles are famously shy, always retreating at speed. But in the summer months, they wander widely and may visit gardens, especially those with ponds.

These graceful predators will be looking for frogs, toads and newts to swallow whole, or (in the case of females) an uncovered compost heap in which to lay their papery eggs. The warmth generated by composting incubates the brood until the babies emerge, usually in August or early September.

Carrion crows

Tatty-winged carrion crows are much in evidence this month. These are birds going through an extended summer moult: they replace only one or two flight feathers in each wing at a time.

Puss moth caterpillar

Puss moths do cute, with scales like cat fur, but their caterpillars are made to scare. Now busy munching willow and poplar, the larvae have big false eyes and flailing tail streamers to deter enemies.

Maidenhair spleenworts

Rock-loving maidenhair spleenworts bear fruit in August. Wart-like capsules on the undersides of the leaves of these ferns release spores that readily colonise garden walls and rockeries.

Common shrews

Dead common shrews are everywhere in midsummer. This is when many of the short-lived adults expire, exhausted after the breeding season. Cats leave the foul-tasting corpses well alone.

Garden wildlife to see in September


Few mammals leave such obvious evidence of their presence, but have you ever seen a live mole? Summer, when female moles evict their offspring, is your best chance of spotting something more than a mere molehill. Within a fortnight of being weaned, the young, known as pups, are forced out of their mother’s network of tunnels to find subterranean territories of their own.

Driven into the open on August and September nights, young moles are surprisingly fleet-footed – and need to be. Large numbers are picked off by tawny owls, foxes and domestic cats; more still will starve before they can go to ground. Having found a home, they will be largely solitary until the following spring, when the males start tunnelling over wide areas in search of receptive partners.

Hawthorn shieldbug

A new generation of adult hawthorn shieldbugs is now at large. Beware: if you handle them: they may exude a smelly liquid, a trick that earned them the alternative name of stinkbugs.

Brimstone moth

The brimstone moth flies on flaming yellow wings to bright lights until October; its forewings bear brown patches that resemble scorch marks. The larvae feed on hawthorn and blackthorn.

Red valerian

The long flowering season of red valerian is a boon to September-nectaring insects. A native of the Mediterranean, this plant is an especially potent lure for foraging hummingbird hawkmoths.

Wood mouse

Watch at dusk for fleeting glimpses of local woodmice scuttling between patches of cover. Numbers of our most common rodent peak this month: most sightings are the summer’s babies.

Garden wildlife to see in October


Hide and seek begins in earnest in October, as jays devote themselves to collecting ripening acorns. Normally ground feeders, they now spend as much time in the treetops. Screeching and crashing through the canopy, they pluck one, two, five acorns, and carry them off in their expandable throat pouches. They bury their booty out of sight of rival birds, and will remember the locations using landmarks such as trees and bushes.

A single jay may retrieve several hundred acorns. It’s common lore that jays forget some, which grow into the next generation of oaks, but acorns have been found in jay stomachs in every month of the year, suggesting an impressive long-term memory. Perhaps the growing seedlings are simply left in favour of tastier options.


Listen for tinkling calls as numbers of seed-seeking goldfinches soar in gardens this month. Many of the small flocks will be on migration towards Mediterranean countries for the winter.

Feathered thorn moth

A common moth that flies only in autumn, the feathered thorn is named for the male’s intricate, feather-like antennae. The eggs overwinter on oak, hawthorn and silver birch trees.

Bramble leaf minor moth

Study the squiggles left by bramble leaf miner moth caterpillars on old bramble leaves. The eggs were laid in the leaves – see where the wiggly channels widened as the grubs grew.

Shaggy inkcap

Autumn brings up shaggy inkcaps in lawns, banks and verges, sprouting from buried dead wood. The shaggy parasols are barely open when they drip black ‘ink’ filled with spores.

Garden wildlife to see in November

Grey squirrel

No sooner do trees begin dropping their leaves than grey squirrels carry them back up again. The animals don’t hibernate, but still need snug winter refuges, so their priority in autumn is to build or repair their dreys. Look out for squirrels gathering mouthfuls of leaves then shinning up trees. They will already have lodged a domed cage of twigs in a fork close to the trunk at least 5m above ground, and now add leaves as a wind- and waterproof filling. The final touch is a lining of grasses and soft mosses. Squirrels make more than one drey to reduce the build-up of fleas and as an insurance policy against storm damage.

Freshwater shrimp

When clearing ponds (see p54) you may spot tiny, wriggling freshwater shrimps. The main garden species, Crangonyx pseudogracilis, is a North American coloniser that arrived here in 1935.

Herald moth

November is the last month that herald moths will be on the wing. These plentiful, wide-ranging moths seek cellars and outbuildings where they can hibernate through the winter.

Red admiral butterfly

Red admirals come down to windfall fruit this month, continuously opening and closing their wings as they sip. The fermenting juice will fuel their migration south towards the Mediterranean.

Pied wagtail

At dusk, listen for twittering flocks of pied wagtails and look out for their long-tailed silhouettes passing overhead to roost sites on trees or buildings. Roosts may be several hundred strong.

Garden wildlife to see in December

Garden snails

Despite appearances, a winter assembly of garden snails on a flowerpot or in a crack under a paving slab has no social function. The first arrivals seek a hard surface for a firm fix; for those that follow, the concave shape of another snail shell is simply a comfortable fit, resulting in a growing cluster of shell on shell.

The mucus that in summer lubricates a snail’s trails is now used to create an epiphragm – a dry, hard lid over the shell opening, reinforced with calcium carbonate. This neatly seals the animal inside and prevents desiccation (a snail’s greatest enemy). It isn’t 100 per cent impermeable, but in winter the mollusc needs just one-fiftieth of the oxygen it uses in summer. Hibernation sees the animal’s heartbeat drop from 36 beats per minute to barely three or four.

Winter gnats

Damp afternoons in early winter bring out clouds of tiny winter gnats. The swarms often gather over a shrub or fence post, and consist of male midges waiting for females to turn up.


Have you ever studied how different garden birds tackle seeds? The greenfinch has a neat trick: it makes a fine cut in a sunflower seed with its beak, then its wrap-around tongue neatly shells it.

Hoof fungus

True to its name, the hoof fungus sprouts from the trunk of birch trees looking like a horse’s hoof. Snapped branches from winter gales give its spores an opportunity to invade broken bark.

Mottled umber moth

The mottled umber is one of our few common and widespread moths on the wing in December, though only the male flies. The treebound, wingless female waits for him to arrive and mate.