Rachel’s Top 10 Winter Wildlife Tips
How to help your garden birds survive through the winter
1. Provide plenty of nutritious and fatty foods – In the winter, birds need more high energy foods because they burn more calories to keep themselves warm. Recommended food types include:
- Black Sunflower Seed – A very popular food type with garden birds due to its high oil content
- Nyjer – Rich in fat. A particular favourite of Goldfinches and Siskins
- Peanuts – These are rich in fat and protein and are probably the most popular food type for garden birds
- Suet – High in energy. A favourite of Woodpeckers and other insect-eating birds
- Mealworms – Packed with protein. A favourite of the Robins and
- Fruits and berries – High water content and energy-rich. Favourites of Song thrushes, Blackbirds and winter migrants such as Waxwings.
2. Foods to avoid – There are certain foods that should be avoided:
- Cheap bags of mixed bird seed – These tend to contain a lot of “filler” seed, which lacks nutritional value and will not be eaten by the birds
- Stale or mouldy foods – provides a breeding ground for salmonella bacteria, which can cause food poisoning
- Dried foods – can swell up in the bird’s stomach
- Salted foods, e.g. peanuts – most birds cannot process the salt and may die from ingesting too much
- Cooking fat – prone to smearing which is not good for the bird’s feathers
- Milk – Birds cannot digest it so it can result in serious stomach problems, or even death.
3. Provide an escape route – Make sure your birdbath and feeders are placed near cover, such as a hedge or shrub. This will give the birds a chance to escape any predators.
4. Provide water – Like us, birds need water for drinking and bathing; but although many of us put food out for birds, very few people provide a regular supply of clean water. Most small birds need to drink at least twice a day. Doing this replaces any water lost through respiration or droppings. Bathing is essential for them as it helps keep their feathers in good condition, which makes it easier for them to preen themselves. Preening is important for birds because it helps their feathers remain waterproof and traps an insulating layer of air underneath, retaining heat. There are various ways of providing water for birds in the garden, but the easiest way is a birdbath.
5. Clean your birdbath – Your birdbath should be topped up and cleaned regularly to prevent birds from catching diseases. Only non-toxic products should be used to clean out your birdbath. Diluted household disinfectants can also be used, rinse the birdbath out thoroughly after use to remove any trace of chemicals.
6. Keep your birdbath from freezing – Supplying water for birds is particularly important in winter when many natural water supplies become frozen. Birdbaths will also freeze over in cold weather, but there are several methods you can use to prevent this from happening. Here are some from the RSPB:
· A metal container placed on three or four bricks with a night light underneath, sheltering it from the wind with further bricks
· A thermostatically controlled immersion heater, or a light bulb inside a tiling pipe on which the dish is resting, but they must be fitted with suitable external wiring
· A light ball, like a ping-pong ball, when placed in the water – will be moved by even a gentle breeze and keep just a small amount of water ice free, even in fairly severe conditions
· Line the bath with a polythene sheet that you can lift out along with the ice
· Pour on hot water to melt the ice
· If you really want to treat your garden birds, the ultimate option is the Solar Sipper, a bird bath that uses solar energy to prevent the water from freezing.
7. Bird boxes aren’t just for spring – Now is a great time to start putting up bird boxes or cleaning out old ones, as many birds will use them to roost in on cold winter nights.
8. Natural food sources – Supplementary feeding is very important for the survival of our garden birds but it cannot solely provide all the natural proteins and vitamins that birds need, so try to also include natural food sources in your garden, such as a native hedgerow or fruit trees.
9. Don’t stop – Once you start feeding birds, the most important thing is not to stop. Birds will very quickly come to rely on the food you provide them for their survival, so make sure you stock up regularly.
10. Be careful with anti-freeze – Thousands of animals including wildlife and domestic pets die every year because they lick up spilled anti-freeze on garage floors, driveways, garden paths, pavements and roads. Anti-freeze tastes sweet, and this makes it attractive to animals, but it is highly toxic. Any animals that consume it and not treated quickly, will suffer a long and agonising death. So please, be careful!
For more wildlife tips and information, why not come along to our Birding event at East Park this Saturday (15th December)?
The event will start with a guided bird watch walk around the park, and then there will be some fun, nature-related activities for kids, followed by a Wildlife Workshop, where we will be showing you how you can make your very own fat cakes for your garden birds!
Meet at the Pavilion (the green building in the centre of the park) at 10am for the bird watch walk, or at 12pm for the wildlife workshop.
Hope to see you there!
Creative Commons Credits
– Great Spotted Woodpecker © Rachel Davies
– Robin © ALAMY – Telgraph
– Roosting Huts © Duncraft
– Waxwing © Christopher Drake