Autumn is officially here and although we enjoy the fiery colours sweeping through parks and woodlands, complete with leaves crunching underfoot, it’s important to give thought to our garden birds. The colder nights and bitter winds mean they will struggle for food and shelter – and the RSPB is appealing to people to help our garden birds survive the winter.
During the colder months birds need more energy to stay warm and have less daylight time to find food, so the three key things they need are food, water and shelter.
“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,” explains Charlotte Ambrose, RSPB Wildlife Advisor. “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.”
Here are five easy ways to help garden birds this winter:
Make use of kitchen scraps
Kitchen scraps like mild grated cheese, bruised fruit (not mouldy), cooked rice, unsalted bits of hard fat, roast potatoes and dry porridge go down a treat with garden birds. You can provide an excellent full-fat winter food by making your own bird cakes or fat balls. The RSPB also suggests calorie-rich foods like mixed seed, sunflower seed, nyjer seed and good quality peanuts.
No thank you!
There are some foods you should avoid as they can be dangerous for birds. Cooking fat from the roast mixes with meat juices during cooking to make a runny, greasy mixture: this sticks to feathers and stop 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.
Plan your planting
Providing shelter from the harsh weather is extremely important. Plant dense hedges such as privet or hawthorn, or let ivy or holly to grow and you’ll be providing a great place to roost in and shelter from the elements.
Warm and cozy
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 frequently communal with many residents packing in together for extra warmth. The record number of birds found in one box is 63 wrens!
Ensuring your garden is filled with food now will improve your chances of having a successful Big Garden Birdwatch. The RSPB’s annual event runs from 25-27 January 2020. To take part, all you need to do is spend one hour at any time over that weekend noting the number of feathered visitors to your garden or local green space. You can sign up for this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch from 12 December at rspb.org.uk/birdwatch