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In wintertime, garden birds can have a tough time of it. Their natural food sources are being increasingly depleted, and they need to maintain a good bodyweight to survive the colder months. Here’s how you can help birds to survive and thrive this winter.
Make use of kitchen leftovers
The more variety of food you put out, the more species of bird you will attract to your garden. There is no need to buy special bird food if you don’t want to, as many birds will eat kitchen scraps such as breadcrumbs, cooked rice, and pastry flakes, the RSPB advises. They will also eat damaged fruit, such as bruised apples and pears.
Birds will also eat fat and suet, dried fruit, cooked potatoes, chopped bacon rind, and mild grated cheese. However, avoid putting salted peanuts out for them, as salt is damaging to birds. During cold weather, fatty foods are a good choice, because they help birds to maintain their bodyweight and stay warm.
Put out fats, seeds, and nuts
If you want to buy prepared bird food for the winter, choose a mixture of seeds, nuts, and fats. It is best to place fat blocks in wire cages to prevent them being stolen by larger wildlife. Avoid fatballs and other bird food which is sold it nylon mesh bags, because they may trap birds’ feet, beaks, and even tongues.
You can also place fat blocks in hollow logs or shells with holes drilled in to them. For peanuts, use steel mesh feeders with about 6mm gaps, as this is considered large enough to prevent beak damage, but small enough to prevent the nuts being depleted too quickly.
Peanuts are actually a legume rather than a nut, and they are a great source of protein and fat for native birds such as tits, finches, jays, nuthatches, and woodpeckers, when placed in a suitable steel mesh feeder.
Whole peanuts with the shells on can be left on bird tables to attract larger birds such as jays, jackdaws, magpies and crows. However, do not leave out whole peanuts during the breeding season, in case young chicks choke on them. If peanuts remain uneaten for a long period, remove them as they are prone to going mouldy.
Use seed feeders, which are cylindrical tubes with holes in, and can be hung from tree branches or hooks and so on. They are suitable for mixed seeds and sunflowers, and will attract smaller birds such as tits, siskins, and greenfinches.
Placing feeders and bird tables
Bird tables should have a raised rim to prevent food spilling onto the ground, and drainage holes at the edges. Clean them weekly to prevent droppings and leftover food building up, which creates unhygienic conditions. Place them within a couple of metres of a tree, shrub or fence where bird can escape from predators if necessary.
While you will want your bird feeder or table to be visible from the window to enjoy your garden visitors, do not place it too close where they will be disturbed by household members, or accidently fly into the window.
Feed on a regular basis
It is best to feed to feed birds regularly rather than sporadically, because in winter energy reserves are precious, and birds will make repeated visits to your garden to check for food. In cold weather, feed them twice daily if possible.
Give them time
Birds may take a while to find your food, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t see a lot of visitors straight away. Put out small amounts in a consistent place each day, and chances are after a few weeks, your garden will become a popular wildlife destination.
Provide fresh water
Birds also need fresh water sources to bathe and drink during the winter months. If you have a garden pond, keep a rubber ball floating in it to prevent it icing over. Alternatively, you could create a makeshift bird bath out of an upturned bin lid, or an old washing up bowl with about 5cm of water.
Pedestal bird baths look attractive, but in fact they are not ideal for birds because they are more comfortable drinking and bathing at ground level. They also prefer rustic grippy surfaces to smooth plastic or glazed ceramic.
Plant fruit bearing shrubs
Another way to help birds feed in the winter is to grow shrubs which bear berries such as holly, ivy, cotoneaster, and Malus. These will also provide a source of shelter and nesting spots, and are also attractive additions to keep your garden green and interesting throughout the winter.
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