Seeds of survival for the birds
Feeders and tables with high- energy foods
Howlong is it since you filled your bird feeder or replenished the water in your birdbath? If you haven’t done it for a while, there’s no time like the present.
“The sudden drop in temperatures across the UK will have been a big shock to birds’ systems after spending the past couple of months with few worries in termsoffoodavailability,” says Richard James, RSPB wildlife adviser.
“Thanks to the recent mild weather, many natural food sources have been readily available and water has been easy to come by. Now the snow and ice are here birds will need all the help they can get to survive the winter.”
However, the range of bird seeds, fat balls and other so- called bird- friendly items can leave gardeners baffled as to what’s best for our feathered friends.
The RSPB suggests calorierich foods such as mixed seed, nyjer seed, fatballs, suet sprinkles, sunflower seed and good quality peanuts, as well as kitchen scraps such as mild grated cheese, rice and porridge oats.
Small seeds, such as millet, attract mostly house sparrows, dunnocks, finches, reed buntings and collared doves, while flaked maize is taken readily by blackbirds.
Tits andgreenfinchesfavour peanuts and sunflower seeds. Mixes that contain chunks or whole nuts are suitable for winter feeding only.
Pinhead oatmeal is excellent for many birds. Wheat and barley grains are often included in seed mixtures, but they are re- ally only suitable for pigeons, doves and pheasants, which feed on the ground and rapidly increase in numbers, frequently deterring the smaller species.
Don’t feed the birds cooked fat from roasting tins and dishes, because the fat may have blended with meat juices which leaves amixturepronetosmearing, which is not good for the birds’ feathers, andisabreeding ground for bacteria, the charity warns.
Polyunsaturatedmargarines and vegetable oils are also unsuitable as birds need high levels of saturated fat to retain the high energy to keep warm, and soft fats can be smeared on to feathers, destroying the waterproofing qualities.
Lard and beef suet on their own are fine as they re- solidify after warming and are not as prone to bacteria breeding be- cause they are pure fat.
If you want to give the birds coconut, only give them the fresh stuff in the shell, rinsing out any sweet coconut water before hanging it out, to stop black mildew emerging. Desiccated coconut should never beusedas it can swell inside the bird, with fatal consequences.
Cooked rice without added salt can be beneficial to birds during severe winter weather, while uncooked porridge oats are fine for many bird species. You can also put out small quantities of dry breakfast cereal .
In freezing conditions birds becomemoredependentonwater provided in gardens, since many sources are frozen over.
Put out enough food and you may see a wider variety of visitors during the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch ( Jan 26/ 27), the world’s biggest wildlife survey.