Most of us enjoy seeing and hearing birds when we're out and about walking in the countryside and now's the time to help them out. This year, wild birds faced an earlier than usual test in finding enough of the right kind of foods to give them energy and warmth, meaning the food and water we supply could ensure their survival. During cold spells, birds become more vulnerable and are more likely to come into our gardens to seek refuge. When temperatures drop below freezing, birds struggle to find the natural food they need to stay alive and have to rely on us to help them out. To encourage the survival of our birds, you could help by providing food like meal worms, fat-balls, crushed peanuts, dried fruit, seeds and grain to compensate for birds’ natural food which is covered in snow and ice and impossible for them to reach. Leftovers like grated cheese, porridge oats, soft fruit, unsalted bacon, cooked rice, pasta and the insides of cooked potatoes are also a good source of energy for garden birds, and water for both drinking and bathing is vital.
The RSPB is asking people to follow a wild bird winter survival plan that will help wildlife during the harshest weather:
1. Put out feed regularly, especially in severe weather. Set up a bird table and use high calorie seed mixes. This can also be used to put out kitchen scraps such as grated cheese, pastry and porridge oats.
2. Put out hanging feeders for black sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, sunflower-rich mixes or unsalted peanuts.
3. Ensure a supply of fresh water every day. If it is very cold use tepid water but DO NOT use any antifreeze products.
4. Put out fruit, such as apples and pears, for blackbirds, song thrushes and other members of the thrush family.
5. Food bars or fat hung up or rubbed into the bark of trees is a great help for treecreepers, goldcrests and many other species.
6. Put up nest boxes to provide roost sites for the smaller birds. They will then be used for breeding later in the year.
When the weather conditions take a turn for the worse there is often a noticeable change in the behaviour of wildlife. Birds will try to replenish energy overnight first thing in the morning and last thing in the afternoon with a spurt of activity.
During winter birds must feed at an increasing speed, but must also take plenty of rest to conserve energy. Many birds become more sociable to improve their chances of survival during cold weather, flocking together to improve their chances of locating food, and huddling together during the critical night-time period to help conserve body heat.
More information about helping garden wildlife is available at www.rspb.org.uk
The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch – the world’s biggest bird survey – will take place on 29 & 30 January to discover more about how birds are faring in the nation’s gardens. Visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch
Header - Migrating greylag geese in Northumberland National Park
This page - Blackbird Turdus merula - Andy Hay/rspb-images.com