As the Winter weather starts to thaw, our feathered friends will still be feeling its effects and struggling to find food and water. Birds have feather coats and Spring is coming, but we still need to help them through these cold nights and freezing temperatures. With seeds and berries sparse, we should help our wild birds by leaving out high energy and high calorie foods.
long cold nights and freezing temperatures make it a struggle
Different birds like different foods – Sparrows and Finches love seeds and breadcrumbs, Tits like fat balls, Robins like worms. Check who your regular visitors are, or just see what isn’t being eaten in your garden and don’t buy it again. Only leave out what will be eaten that day, otherwise you may end up with rats scavenging the leftovers!
Birds love fruit – leave apples, pears, bananas and other soft fruits out whole, and watch the birds peck away at them. Make sure you do not leave raisins and grapes etc. on the ground, as dogs might get at them and that is not good.
Some leftover scraps from your table are a great winter feed for birds. Boiled rice, pasta and porridge are all good high energy bird food. Also, grated (mild!) cheese is a treat too.
Seed mixes are designed for wild birds and for winter, they’ll love your garden best if you ramp up the black sunflower seed offerings. Unsalted peanuts are also a firm favourite.
Fat balls and suet balls are an excellent all round food, but are especially good for Winter. Robins love mealworms, if you can bear to deal with them!
Bread isn’t a great winter food, but if you leave out crumbled mince pies and fruit cake, you’ll get flocks of visitors.
Don’t leave turkey fat out. This can clog up birds’ feathers and essentially stop them being able to fly.
Birds need water not just for drinking, but also for bathing and preening. Once we get into a big freeze, garden bird baths are often the only water source around. Bird baths will freeze too though, so check first thing in the morning. If yours has frozen, pour some boiling water on to melt the ice – but make sure it is only tepid after defrosting. Never, ever use antifreeze. Leave something in the water – a twig or tennis ball – to help at least part of the bath stay ice-free, and you should scrub your bird bath regularly to keep it clean. If you haven’t got a bird bath yet, a plant saucer or upturned bin lid will work for now.
During both Winter and Summer keep all food and water stations away from bushes where cats could be lurking. Think about food falling off feeders because many birds are ground feeders and they are very vulnerable when on the ground. Bird tables are great for seed mixes, soft fruits, grated cheese, porridge oats rice and pasta, while hanging feeders are designed for sunflower seeds, nuts and fat balls. And don’t panic if squirrels get some nuts – they need to eat too. Nesting boxes and bird houses make good roosting spots over the winter. Make sure they are well secured and at least 1.5 metres above the ground.
Mornings and evenings see the most feeding activity as birds first break their overnight fast and then set themselves up for the long, cold night ahead, so if you have cats, these would be good times to keep them in.