Feeding Birds In Winter
The impact of removing trees and hedgerows, and building over large parts of the countryside has had a major impact on birds’ natural food sources. It is particularly noticeable during the winter months and so during this time more birds may venture into gardens in search of food.
Although rowan, hawthorn and yews may look as though they are abundant with berries there isn’t enough to go round. More and more birds rely on humans to supply extra food to them during the cold weather and wherever you live it’s likely that you’ll see more birds in your garden over winter.
The shorter days in winter mean birds have less time to forage for food and of course it’s important that they keep their energy levels up so they don’t freeze to death in sub-zero temperatures.
Here are 5 foods that your garden birds will appreciate in winter. You can either put them out on a bird table or fill up a feeder, or you could simply scatter them on the ground. Remember though, if it snows to clear a patch so that birds can find the food.
Seed mixes are rich in nutrients and can be specially formulated to attract one species or you can buy all-purpose mixes that will attract lots of different types of bird. Niger seed is becoming more popular in the UK because it attracts goldfinches and people appreciate their colourful displays as they flock to the feeders.
Make sure you buy your seed mix from a reputable supplier and use seed mixes formulated for wild birds rather than caged or aviary birds.
Sunflower hearts are a great all year round bird food that are particularly enjoyed by goldfinches but will also attract lots of as winter visitors such as long-tailed tits, blackbirds, sparrows, robins, and nuthatches. With no husks they leave little mess around feeders and they are packed with nutrients and essential oils to keep birds in the best of health.
Animal fat such as suet or lard is an excellent treat for birds in the winter as gives them an instant energy boost. Eating suet or lard regularly allows birds to build up a fat reserve to see them through the freezing nights. You can make your own fat feeders by filling old plastic containers such as yoghurt pots or drinks bottles with a mixture of suet, seeds, and dried fruit or you can buy special fat balls or suet blocks from bird food suppliers.
Do not use hooks or nets when hanging your fat feeders as they can be harmful to birds if they get caught up in them.
Winter is the best time to feed birds kitchen scraps as the colder weather means there is less risk of them turning rancid or attracting rats and other vermin.
Birds will happily eat various leftovers including unsalted bacon, mild cheese, soaked dried fruit, small amounts of bread, cooked rice and nuts.
Lots of people buy too much food over Christmas but if you’re sick of mince pies, Christmas pudding, roast potatoes, and nuts don’t throw them away. Your birds will more than appreciate a festive treat.
It is important that you put out fresh supplies of water in the winter as birds’ usual sources may be frozen over. You may see birds splashing about in the water but don’t worry about them getting cold. As well as water for drinking they need it for cleaning themselves.
A heated bird bath will prevent the water from turning to ice, or alternatively you can place a ping-pong ball on the surface. As it bobs about it will stop the water freezing.
Practise Good Hygiene
Feeding birds can encourage rats so whichever food you choose to put out for birds make sure that you keep feeding areas clean.
Sweep up old food and use a scraper to remove dried food and droppings from your bird table.
Wash and disinfect your feeders at least once a week and add a bird friendly disinfectant to your bird bath to help prevent the spread of disease.