Re­mem­ber feath­ered friends in the cold weather

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - LIFE & LEISURE - 1. 2. 3. STEPHEN­SON

AS the RSPB, bird-watch­ers and gar­den­ers na­tion­wide gear up for the char­ity’s an­nual Big Gar­den Bird­watch, the or­gan­i­sa­tion is warn­ing that birds that have ben­e­fited from a mild au­tumn will be­gin to strug­gle as the weather changes.

Re­sults from the find­ings of the 2014 event, in which almost half a mil­lion peo­ple recorded the birds they saw over the two days, re­vealed some in­ter­est­ing changes among our most popular gar­den birds, with some species that ben­e­fit from a bit of ex­tra help creep­ing up the rank­ings.

Blue tits emerged in their high­est po­si­tion since Big Gar­den Bird­watch be­gan, at num­ber two. The pre­vi­ous oc­cu­piers of the sec­ond spot, black­birds, dropped to num­ber four. Goldfinches climbed another place since the pre­vi­ous year and reached num­ber seven while t he robin dropped back to num­ber 10. There was a new en­trant to the top 20 - for the first time ever the great spot­ted wood­pecker squeezed in at num­ber 20.

As well as ask­ing the pub­lic to record their find­ings - with the help of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pic­tures avail­able on the RSPB web­site www.rspb.org. uk - the or­gan­i­sa­tion is also ask­ing peo­ple to do their bit to pro­tect our birds through the win­ter by top­ping up their bird feed­ers and pro­vid­ing fresh wa­ter and shel­ter for wildlife in their gar­dens dur­ing the frosty weather.

The na­ture char­ity says there are three key things that birds will need this win­ter: food, un­frozen wa­ter and shel­ter.

In chilly weather, birds will ap­pre­ci­ate a va­ri­ety of food, but fatty food will be es­pe­cially help­ful. For ex­am­ple, fat balls, or home­made bird cakes made with lard and packed with seeds, fruit or dried meal­worms are great treats to put out in your gar­den. Kitchen scraps will work well, and a recipe for suc­cess­fully feed­ing birds over win­ter might in­clude chopped fat from un­salted meat, cheese, dried fruit and pas­try.

Un­frozen wa­ter for drink­ing and bathing may be hard for birds to find when there’s been a frost, but with a sim­ple trick you can help to keep a patch of wa­ter ice-free. Float a small ball, such as a ping-pong ball, on the sur­face of the wa­ter. Even the light­est breeze will keep it mov­ing stop an area of the wa­ter freez­ing.

Pro­vide shel­ter by plant­ing dense hedges such as privet or hawthorn, or al­low­ing ivy or holly to grow. Th­ese all pro­vide great cover for birds to roost in. Nest­boxes can also be good roost­ing sites. Roofs are also a popular spot for birds try­ing to keep warm. If birds are get­ting into a hole in your roof and you need to get the hole fixed, con­sider putting up a nest­box to re­place the gap. Find out more about giv­ing na­ture a home in your gar­den here: rspb.org. uk/homes

RSPB wildlife ad­vi­sor Richard James says: “Peo­ple can make a real dif­fer­ence to gar­den birds and im­prove their chances of sur­viv­ing he win­ter.

“Birds don’t need much and by ro­vid­ing a sup­ply of food, a patch f un­frozen wa­ter and some­where to hel­ter from the el­e­ments, you will e re­warded with great views of wildlife in your back gar­den.

“While birds need fatty foods, you houldn’t put out fat from a roast­ing n, such as turkey fat from Christ­mas, as this runny fat can coat irds’ feath­ers, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for hem to move or fly.”

The RSPB’s an­nual Big Gar­den Bird­watch, the world’s big­gest wildlife survey, re­turns on Satur­day and Sun­day, Jan­uary 24 and 25. To take part, peo­ple are asked to spend just one hour at any time over that week­end not­ing the high­est num­ber of each bird species seen in their gar­dens or lo­cal park at any one time. They then have three weeks to sub­mit their re­sults to the RSPB, ei­ther on­line at www.rspb.org.uk/ bird­watch or in the post.

Last year’s event re­vealed that house spar­rows were the most recorded birds de­spite their fall­ing num­bers. The full re­sults can be viewed on­line at rspb.org.uk/ bird­watch

HAN­NAH

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