The continued cold weather has prompted Scottish Natural Heritage to remind people using the countryside to give wildlife space to feed and survive.
Last winter a wide range of species suffered, including common birds such as wrens, dunnock, treecreeper, robin and greenfinch. Barn owls also suffered. If weather continues cold then we will see a similar picture.
The frozen conditions means wild birds, particularly those species which rely on wet habitats such as ducks, geese and shore waders, will likely be struggling to find sufficient food to survive.
There have been reports of unusual wildfowl behaviour, such as mass movements away from traditional wintering areas, and some waterfowl and other birds are under serious pressure due to poor feeding conditions.
There is limited evidence that some coastal waders are losing body condition. Confusingly, others seem OK but it is early in the season and hard weather usually has more of an impact later in the winter. Some wildfowlers have reported small numbers of geese in poor condition, though most seem to be coping.
Other species such as snipe and woodcock have headed west, where there is less snow and the ground is not as frozen. As well as moving around species often move into gardens. This means people are likely to see more thrushes (e.g. redwings and fieldfares) in their gardens, and possibly even more unusual visitors such as water rails and woodcock.
Dr Andy Douse, SNH senior ornithological adviser, said people can help by avoiding getting too close to wildlife at this time and by providing food for birds in gardens.
He added: “The continued severe cold weather throughout much of Scotland is prolonging the risk to many species, particularly birds. They will need all their energy to keep warm and find food. Any unnecessary disturbance will mean they need to use energy to move around instead. This can mean the difference between life and death for some of them.”
Meanwhile the sustained cold weather is expected to lead to an unprecedented extension of the current suspension of wildfowling. SNH staff will be assessing the state of inland and coastal wetlands and receiving reports of waterfowl numbers and condition from different locations across Scotland.