Even in the comfort of our heated homes it can be a struggle to keep warm once the cold snap kicks in, but spare a thought for your garden birds as they wrestle with the challenges of winter in the wild.
As low temperatures sweep across the UK, the countryside becomes bare and natural food sources dwindle; short days leave less time to find food and birds need more energy just to keep warm.
The RSPB is appealing to people to help our garden birds survive the winter.
Their Wildlife Advisor, Charlotte Ambrose, said: “Up until now birds have been able to feed on insects and seeds, but the cold weather means they move into our gardens to find refuge. You can make a real difference and improve their chances of survival, as well as being rewarded by great views of wildlife in your garden or outside space.”
There are three key things that birds will need this winter: food, water and shelter. You can help provide for birds in your garden with these top tips from the RSPB:
- Variety is the spice: The best thing you can do is to provide a variety of food. But to keep energy up during the colder months, the RSPB suggests calorie-rich foods like mixed seed, nyjer seed, sunflower seed and good-quality peanuts.
- Make your own: Fat balls or homemade bird cakes only take a few minutes to make and are a great children’s activity. These can be made cheaply with lard or suet and are an excellent full-fat winter food.
- Spare some scraps: You don’t have to buy food in specially, kitchen scraps like mild grated cheese, old fruit, cooked rice, unsalted bits of fat, roast potatoes and raw porridge oats will all be gratefully received.
- No thank you! There are some foods you should avoid as they can be dangerous for birds. Cooking fat from the roast or Christmas turkey mixes with meat juices during cooking to make a runny, greasy mixture. This sticks to feathers and stops them from being waterproof. Other foods to avoid are dried coconut, cooked porridge oats, milk, and mouldy or salted food.
- Keep it fresh: Another essential is fresh water for drinking and bathing. Finding sources of water can be hard with freezing temperatures, but a simple trick will help keep a patch of water ice-free: float a small ball, such as a ping-pong ball, on the surface of the water and even a light breeze will stop it from freezing over.
- Hide in a hedge: Providing shelter from the harsh weather is extremely important. Plant dense hedges such as privet or hawthorn, or allow ivy or holly to grow and you’ll be providing a great place to roost and shelter from the elements.
- Warmth is key: Nestboxes are not just used over the summer egg-laying season – many birds will use them on a cold winter’s night. These boxes are often communal, with many residents packing in together for extra warmth. The record number of birds found in one box is 63 wrens!