Winter wildlife

Winter’s a great time to spot waterway wildlife so wrap up warm and pay us a visit.

A swan in the snow Leeds & Liverpool Canal

Deer, badgers and foxes

Winter is a great time to see deer, as their hiding places in dense woodland become sparse. Badgers and foxes are also easier to spot in the winter, particularly as the bright red fur of the fox stands out against the dull, wintery background.

Badgers have long oval-shaped pads with five toe prints. It’s unusual to have five toes touch the ground in this way. Otters are the only other British mammal to do this. However, with otters, you can sometimes see the webbing between their toes, which contributes to their top swimming ability.

Fox footprints are much harder to discern as you will find that the foot is very similar to a dog footprint. An easy way to tell is to draw a horizontal line between the two forward toe pads and the back two toe pads, if you can draw a line straight through then you must have a fox track!

Newbury swan Newbury swan


Birds can be easier to see throughout the winter and although some of our familiar summertime species disappear, a whole host of species join us for winter.

Many of our rural canals and rivers twist their way through arable farmland. These fields are the best place to spot some of our winter tourists, such as redwings and fieldfares. These two species look similar to the song thrush, and sometimes you can see redwings and fieldfares flocking together. It’s tricky to tell them apart but the eagle-eyed birdwatcher will spot the red flash on the underwing which gives the redwing its name.

Bewick’s and whooper swans are also winter visitors and will gather in large impressive flocks over the cold months. Long-term studies on these birds have identified individuals by the markings on their beaks. A wealth of information about the way family groups will stick together for many years has also been gathered from these flocks.

Pipistrelle bat in flight


Recent research has found that some of our smallest mammals, bats, also migrate. Tiny nathusius’s pipistrelles are particular fans of the wide, open waters of canals and lakes, but very occasionally they have been known to turn up on oil rigs out in the North Sea.

The appearance of these little animals on oil rigs suggests that they fly across the sea. In the last couple of years it’s been confirmed that two pipistrelles have migrated over from the continent, with one travelling from as far away as Latvia. There is still a lot to learn about these fascinating creatures.

Last date edited: 21 June 2021