Caring for wild birds over the winter and encouraging them to visit your garden
There is already a discernible nip in the air in the mornings – heralding short winter days and cold nights – and potentially tough times for the wild birds. So here we provide some simple ways to encourage them to visit your garden and some ideas about how best to care for them.
Wild birds don’t hibernate like most animals and if they don’t migrate to warmer climbs they have to fend for themselves in the Autumn and over the hard, cold months of the winter. There is less natural food around – Autumn berries and seeds have either already been eaten or destroyed by the weather. The ground is often frozen and insects are scarce. Trees also loose their leaves so there is less shelter for them plus as the days get shorter there is less time for them to look for food. Then as the temperature get colder wild birds have to expend extra energy fluffing up their feathers just to stay warm. So what can you do to help?
Whilst most wild birds don’t weigh that much they typically eat up to two thirds of their body weight a day, and will spend most of their waking lives in search of food. Providing them with easy access to food means they use less energy, and this can really help them survive the winter. Seed mixes rich in oils and suet based products provide the most calories and birds quickly get used to feeding routines and will visit your garden accordingly. In severe weather, feed birds twice a day if you can; early morning and early afternoon.
By providing a variety of bird feeding stations, you can attract a wider range of birds into your garden. Some birds forage in the trees but blackbirds, thrushes, wrens and robins are ground feeders. Scatter bird food on your patio/lawn but spread it out to reduce competition. Bird tables with roofs are also excellent for providing various birds with a wide choice of food, including seeds, peanuts, and even some table scraps. Tubular feeders made of tough plastic are popular because they keep seed dry, clean and safe to eat. Fine seeds require very small feeding ports so that it does not spill out, whilst peanuts and suet blocks require a mesh feeder.
It can take a few days for birds to discover the food and to convince themselves that it is a safe place to feed. Once they have, they will visit regularly if you keep it clean and tidy. Don’t allow uneaten food to accumulate on the table as this can encourage bacteria like Salmonella and E.coli along with vermin. Clean all items outside, wear gloves and don’t use the same brush for any other jobs.
At Tadley Pet Supplies we stock a fantastic range of wild bird seeds, fat balls, peanuts and other foods that will encourage birds into your garden which should give you great enjoyment over Autumn/Winter months and into the Spring. Click here to see our latest special offers.
Bird boxes are best put up during the autumn as many non-migratory birds need a place to cosy up in winter. Clean out existing boxes before 31st January (to keep strictly within the law) and also add any new boxes now as this will not only bring birds to your garden and help keep them safe through the colder months but also .
The height and position you choose for your bird box will depend on which species it is intended for. Boxes for sparrows, tits or starlings should be 2-4m up your tree or wall. Open-fronted boxes are ideal for robins and wrens but need to be below 2m and in well hidden in vegetation.
Try to place the bird box somewhere where it will be shaded by a tree or building during the day. Make sure there are no branches or leaves in front of the entrance thereby ensuring a clear flight path into the box. They should not face strong sunlight and should be positioned away from prevailing wet winds. North-east facing entrances may therefore be best.
When cleaning out existing boxes remove old nesting material and cleanse the inside of the box with boiling water as this will help to kill bird parasites and their eggs.
If you have space creating some brush, rock and wood piles provide nooks and crannies for other wild birds to hide in. Eaves, porches and overhangs also give birds amazing shelter from storms and harsh weather conditions, especially if there are no trees in your garden!
How to stop bird baths from freezing
Birds still need access to open water even in the depth of winter. A great way to achieve this in your garden is to place a light ball, like a squash ball, on the water in the bird bath. This can be moved by the softest of breezes and will keep a small amount of water ice-free, even in the most unsavoury conditions. You could also line the bird bath with a polythene sheet, overlapping the edge slightly which means on really harsh mornings you can easily lift out all the ice and then refill it. Or try the old favourite – simply pour hot water on to melt the ice in your bird bath!
Adding a larger ball to a pond has a similar effect plus also keeps the surface of the pond open which is crucial as while fish survive below-freezing temperatures by going into hibernation they still need to receive plenty of oxygen. Keeping a fountain or waterfall operating during the colder months will also have the same affect.