FEEDING WILD GARDEN BIRDS & BIRD WINTER CARE TIPS

FEEDING WILD GARDEN BIRDS –WINTER CARE TIPS -What to feed  when to feed and how to feed British wild garden birds.

After a relatively mild weather with food plentiful, easy takings of insects, caterpillars, worms even fruit and berries, have long gone the nation’s vulnerable populations of wild birds have had to adjust to the shock of suddenly having to struggle in often sub zero temperatures to find food and survive. I urge those who can, to be vigilant in putting food out for them regularly to help them survive and continue to give us the privilege of their presence in our gardens and beyond.

Click here to view an album in slideshow form of winter visitors to my small garden.

Click here to view an album in slideshow form of winter visitors to my small garden.

(Click this link for examples of my photographs of various wild birds that visited my small garden during Spring and Summer Months in slideshow presentation Summer Garden Visitors )

With limited food not easily available, hunting for it over wider distances burns off even more calories so if they can get used to being fed in your garden they won’t have such a tough time and will keep coming back . I put food out twice a day in really severe weather – just after breakfast and early afternoon in line with wild birds food hunting habits.

 

What can we do to help wild birds?

You can help wild birds by making food and water regularly available in your garden and in winter of course natural foods are scarce and snow and ice may make the search for food even harder and that is where we come in and make a real difference. Try to feed birds regularly once in the morning and then late in the afternoon with calorie-rich foods which include mixed seeds, suet sprinkles, sunflower seeds and good-quality peanuts, (not salted ) as well as kitchen scraps like mild grated cheese, cooked rice and porridge oats and some multigrain cereals and even salt free peanut butter. I recommend buying in wild bird food mixes some of which now actually come with a energy rating as in the example. You can also leave out apples, cut them in two and leave them on the ground – popular with blackbirds and robins.

some wild bird foods now have an energy rating. In winter especiallu opt for the highest rating available.

some wild bird foods now have an energy rating. In winter especially opt for the highest rating available.

 

I tend to buy different makes from different suppliers so that I can offer a broader diet that the majority of garden visitors can enjoy. I look out for mixes but also some foods that are sold separately ,things like dried  meal worm and sun flower seed in and make my own cocktail to fill the range of bird feeders I have in my garden. As well as shop bought bags of wild birds mixes I also buy “ fats balls” which are a firm favourite with my local wild bird guests all year round and their variant , a half coconut shell filled with a mix of suet and various seeds.

fat balls come in little nets so can be hung on branches easily or cut from the nets placed in fat ball feeders.

fat balls come in little nets so can be hung on branches easily or cut from the nets placed in fat ball feeders.

Bird Feeders

I modified this shop bought bird feeder - bolted on flower pot tray which biurds can perch on to feed thus save energy and it stops most of the seeds falling on the ground.

I modified this shop bought bird feeder – bolted on flower pot tray which birds can perch on to feed thus save energy and it stops most of the seeds falling on the ground.

There are a wide range of bird feeders on the market some  of which can be bought quite cheaply. The  ones I use have what is essentially a see through plastic bottle with a detachable  elaborate slotted feeding cap the bottle section  is simply filled with seed mix , the cap then twisted into place and then quickly inverted to stop seed spilling out onto the floor and then hung on a branch. I have modified my feeders using plastic flower pot trays  one as a “roof” ( having drilled two small holes through the  centre of the tray and threaded it on to the branch hanging string ) The lower tray is bolted onto the detachable feeding cap and  saves the seed from being wasted and falling to the ground but also enables small birds to save energy and simply perch of the edge of the tray. Although these feeders are really designed for the more agile small birds even the local pigeons can manage to get their share but have to flap their wings at the same time as they are feeding to remain stable enough to get the seeds.

this style of feeder is not as popular with my visitors and can only be used by the more agile small birds.

this style of feeder is not as popular with my visitors and can only be used by the more agile small birds.

You can of course use a variety of other shallow containers – I use plastic as it is easy to drill holes through. I have  large shallow lids from plastic paint cans or shop large sweet bottle tops which I have drilled a number of small holes through so that rain water drains away and doesn’t cause the seed to deteriorate or germinate  through being constantly soaked.

I use a couple of these large plastic lids as bird feed trays  drilling small holes so that rainwater does not collect.

I use a couple of these large plastic lids as bird feed trays drilling small holes so that rainwater does not collect.

I place these at different heights as some birds prefer to eat of the ground, others higher up such as on the garden wall.

I also drilled a single hole centrally and used a single screw with a washer to screw this down to a low tree stump to stop the wind blowing it away or bigger birds knocking it over.

I also drilled a single hole centrally and used a single screw with a washer to screw this down to a low tree stump to stop the wind blowing it away or bigger birds knocking it over.

Fat balls.

Fat ball nets can be lopped over a branch.

Fat ball nets can be looped over a branch.

 

You can buy fat balls  very cheaply – a range of high calories seeds soaked in fat and made into a solid ball which can be hung up or placed in fat ball holders ( which have a wire frame on which smaller birds can grip with their feet.)

fat ball in netting

fat ball in netting

 

I found over the last few days when the temperature fell below freezing that the fat balls were rock solid making it hard for especially the small birds to get at the seed.

Fatt balls cut from the netting to go in fat ball feeders.

Fatt balls cut from the netting to go in fat ball feeders.

 

To get around the problem I found it best to have a second set of fat balls, keep one set indoors at room temperature  and swap them round each day  in the same container so that they go out unfrozen.

fat ball holder

 

Coconut Food half balls -A similar mix is used in coconut half shells which can also be hung up  but best where bird can either perch or stand close by to peck at them.

starling feeding from half coconut feeder

You can easily make your own – using lard or dripping melted beforehand and mixed together at a 2-1 ratio and left to set before putting out. Kitchen scraps are great to use in the fat cakes but don’t use anything too salty. Never use salted peanuts or very salty bacon.

Make your own bird food  using an empty half coconut  feeder

 

A mixture of lard or fat with a mix of seeds and some multigrain breakfast cereal heated until the fat melts.

A mixture of lard or fat with a mix of seeds and some multigrain breakfast cereal heated until the fat melts.

scoop the still hot mix into the shell until full and leave to cool.

scoop the still hot mix into the shell until full and leave to cool.

The fat has set and cooled and tthen hung on a branch so that a bird can pwerch and peck at it.

The fat has set and cooled and tthen hung on a branch so that a bird can pwerch and peck at it.

 

 

When the half shells are empty I simply use them again having cleaned them thoroughly and make my own melt and mix easy and fund to do with your kids but of course under supervision with hot fat involved .

A homemade simple to make bird table

A homemade simple to make bird table

If you do not already have one in place why not introduce a bird table and put out high calorie seed mixes on it as well as kitchen scraps such as fat and suet, mild grated cheese, cooked potatoes , pastry,  soaked fruit and left over rice ( not spicy). I keep a small dish near where I cook and cut bread to collect crumbs and other scraps. I do break up left over bread but most we have is seeded batch . Make sure you soak bread as dry bread will swell in the bird’s stomach. Do  not put out food that has gone off .

BIRD HEALTH NOTICE You should keep bird tables , feeders and dishes clean as without hygiene the receptacles with collect pathogens which will encourage and spread diseases.

 

 

Where to put food?

Almost all wild birds are naturally nervous and wary of humans and other animals including particularly cats and thus some birds like to feed on bird table high up out of reach to cats or from feeders hung out of reach to cats , others prefer to feed on the ground so that needs to be born in mind when placing food out for our wild feathered friends.   I found that most small birds have a “comfort zone” and scatter if you get within fifteen to twenty feet of them. Some people hang bird feeders on their washing line but my guess if it is an exposed area few birds will have the courage to feed . It would be great if birds came to your window but they almost never do  so putting food on a window sill is unlikely to  appeal to them.

simple shelf made from two brackets ans three planks of scrap wood - during winrter weather i could easily turn the planks over for fresh food to be more  easily seen.

simple shelf made from two brackets ans three planks of scrap wood – during winter weather I could easily turn the loose planks over for fresh food to be more easily seen.

Instead I have a simple  bird table I made from reclaimed timber  and later a feeding shelf mounted on bracket on the rear garden wall near the other table and bird feeders some temporary shelving and which  I recently put a roof on to protect the food from the weather and a range of bird feeders at the bottom of my small garden yard as well as clean water dishes.  I was recently given a bird house for attracting tits to nest  – it has to be placed out of direct sunshine and the prevailing wind and at least two metres above the ground. I am looking forward to seeing if the blue tits or great tits who visit my garden decide to take up residence.

 

i recently added  a roof and a perch to the original bird feeding shelf - it also protects the food from the raiin.

i recently added a roof and a perch to the original bird feeding shelf – it also protects the food from the raiin.

At the bottom of my small back garden I grew  some small trees and a large  shrub  from small shoots which I salvaged for free from waste ground both mountain ash trees and a large buddleia.  That is because I know birds need to have nearby cover to retreat to or perch on and advance to and from the food as they are constantly on the alert for danger and therefore always in risk assessment mode!

small trees grown from saplings now form adequate cover for birds even when leafless in winter they give the wild birds confidence and a sense of security.

small trees grown from saplings now form adequate cover for birds even when leafless in winter they give the wild birds confidence and a sense of security.

Even though both medium sized  sets of  trees are  now leafless the mesh of their branches provides a range of high perches and still a sense of greater security than being out in the open. My bird table and bird feeders are hung from or near too branches so the birds have an easy escape route if needed and feel more secure when they are feeding.

I spread small amounts so food on top of the high back wall , and on these shelves, on the other bird table and on dishes  so that the food is spread in several locations and all the birds can get a fair share as it  reduces pecking order bullying problems from larger or more aggressive birds.

WATER

an old shallow stone sink is what I use as a bird bath - when I cleared the snow I also cleaned out all the dead leaf debris and refrshed it with clean water

an old shallow stone sink is what I use as a bird bath – when I cleared the snow I also cleaned out all the dead leaf debris and refreshed it with clean water

 

Please remember that clean water is essential for birds to drink, wash and preen themselves so ensure that bird baths and other sources in your garden are free from ice every day and make sure you change the water when it gets dirty for example from droppings which contaminate it and may spread pathogens.

The water here is full of dead leaves and  other debris and needed cleaning and the water changed and kept ice free.

The water here is full of dead leaves and other debris and needed cleaning and the water changed and kept ice free.

 

Whatever you do, do not add things like anti-freeze to the water as it is fatally poisonous. Instead drop either an apple or better a pink pong ball into the water as the slightest breeze will keep the ball moving and prevent the water freezing.

Clean fresh water - birds need to drink but also bathe and preen themslves in it.

Clean fresh water – birds need to drink but also bathe and preen themselves in it.

Leave containers to collect clean rain water – float  an apple or a ping pong ball to prevent it freezing on the surface.

DSC_0074

 

 

Footnote.

Although populations of starlings have declined I have a dozen juveniles who visit my small bird friendly garden daily to eat and drink.

Although populations of starlings have declined I have a dozen juveniles who visit my small bird friendly garden daily to eat and drink.

Check out this gallery of photos of starlings feeding in my garden.

STARLING ALBUM

Also we hear that butterfly populations have decreased but even in my small garden with a variety of flowers and particularly the 20 foot high buddlia shrub attracts dozens of butterflies on sunny days- mostly peacocks and cabbage whites but the occasional tortoiseshell or red admiral.

More photographs of our bus and wild bird vistors can be found by following these two links

https://www.facebook.com/john.coxon.56/media_set?set=a.10151752761585546.1073741868.583010545&type=3  cabbage white butterflies  and bees

https://www.facebook.com/john.coxon.56/media_set?set=a.10151737247215546.1073741857.583010545&type=3 wild birds and bugs

https://www.facebook.com/john.coxon.56/media_set?set=a.10151756876180546.1073741870.583010545&type=3  birds and stuff

 

We are surrounded by social housing maisonettes which have no gardens and which are fronted by grass and some shrubs and trees but varieties that offer nothing or very little to wild life as do most low maintenance garden solutions. Yet, in the short terrace I live on, two or three out of the twenty back yards have been turned into wild life friendly gardens and it does make a real difference as the number of wild birds and butterflies and other winged insects proves that you can make a difference however small the space you have. My garden is a mere fifteen feet by 36 feet long.

One Response to “FEEDING WILD GARDEN BIRDS & BIRD WINTER CARE TIPS”

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