As its dropping colder, my thoughts are invariably turning to the creatures out there who don’t have new flannel pyjamas and slippers from Next (Thank you, Mr. Credit Card!). Yesterday I got to work to see a grumpy bluetit sitting on my (empty) bird feeder giving me ‘eyes of scorn’. So I put my coat on and walked around to the stables and horse feed place in Lodge Wood at Aldridge Airport, and stocked up on bird food (and even a new feeder), in order to allay my guilt. I am sure it will only take the weekend for the birds to re-discover the feeder on my office window. In the mean time, my lovely friend Helen has asked me to do some tips on feeding garden wildlife through winter, so here you go….
Feeding the Birds
Whilst we humans are trying to limit the amount of christmas calories we consume, birds are all about piling on the ounces for winter, and feeding them fat balls is probably the BEST way you can help – they are full of calories, MUCH better for helping birds survive the winter than bird seeds. If your birds stay nice and plump through the winter, they will be in prime condition for breeding season, and will be more likely to have two broods in the summer.
How to do it: You can buy ready-made fat balls from most pet shops for around 25p each, or even from supermarkets, and if your garden birds are anything like mine, you are probably best buying them in bulk – buckets of 50 balls will cost you around a tenner, so 5 for £1.
- Make sure that if your fat balls come in those little green nets, that you REMOVE the netting and instead of hanging them by the net, put them in a fat ball cage. This will protect the birds from getting tangled.
- You can even make your own fat balls from your kitchen scraps! Using melted lard as a base, (or vegetable suet if you are veggie!) you can mix in kitchen scraps and cupboard ingredients like cereals, bits of cheese, chopped up dried fruit, nuts (unsalted!), breadcrumbs, cooked rice and pasta, and even bits of fat from unsalted meats. You can also add bird seed to this mix. – Allow the mixture to cool and then use an ice cream scoop to make your balls! (you can roll them in porridge oats to make them more pleasant to handle!)
- You can feed over-ripe fruits to birds like thrushes and blackbirds – they like a bit of dried fruit too, like raisins
- If you want a nice way to feed seeds to birds, and add a few extra calories, a great way is to collect pine cones and tie strings to the top. Then coat the pine cones in unsalted peanut butter and roll them in bird seed before hanging them up!
One of the things its easy to forget that animals need is water. You can put out water regularly, or if you have a pond that freezes over, melt the water in places by placing a hot saucepan of water on the ice. Wait until a hole forms (keep an eye on it, you don’t want to lose your saucepan!)
Another brilliant way to get moisture into your garden birds is to feed them live mealworms. You can buy them at pet shops, but its really easy (and once you’ve bought your first batch, FREE!) to breed your own. I show you how on my blog.
Work hard, but not too hard
By all means carry out your winter garden-sorting tasks, but here’s a few tips to do this in a wildlife friendly way:
- Leave berried shrubs and hollow-stemmed plants as long as you can, until say, February, as berries are valuable food for wildlife and insects could be hibernating in your plants.
- Be gentle when sorting out the compost, because you may disturb hibernating amphibians, or even small mammals that are sheltering in the warmth of the decomposing vegetation.
- Winter is also the time to clean out the old nests from bird boxes, so that they are ready for spring, so add it to your list of winter tasks, but do the work carefully in case hibernating bats have decided to use your bird box. (If this happens, leave the nest, etc as it is and just leave them undisturbed, they will clear off in plenty of time for the birds to move in!
A few final tips
- Don’t put out too much food for the birds at once – you don’t want it going mouldy! Little and often is the best way.
- Never use any chemicals to clean your feeders and bird tables – hot water will do it, and a bit of elbow grease – you can pick up a plastic dish brush for less than £1 and use it ONLY for wildlife stuff – never bring your bird feeders into your kitchen to clean.
- Have a go at a window feeder! You love them, but they are at the bottom of the garden, so why not have a go at hanging a feeder near your window. The birds don’t always go for it, but sometimes they will, and I now have a flock of Long Tailed Tits that feed regularly on my office window, not 5 feet from where I sit! Take a look: