Spare a thought for the birds . . .

Accrington Observer - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD The Laugh­ing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop [email protected]

WITH snow and freez­ing tem­per­a­tures hit­ting the UK this week, the RSPB is ap­peal­ing for peo­ple to spare a thought for the birds who need our help to sur­vive the cold snap.

Find­ing food and en­sur­ing they eat enough of it to build - and main­tain - ad­e­quate fat sup­plies to store on the body and ‘burn’ for en­ergy is the great­est test for wild birds in win­ter. And the food and wa­ter we pro­vide can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death in many cases.

The re­minder comes as many parts of the coun­try are al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing sev­eral inches of snow and the Met Of­fice fore­casts cold and snowy weather to ar­rive else­where in the next cou­ple of days.

When tem­per­a­tures fall be­low freez­ing, our birds strug­gle to find the food they need to sur­vive the win­ter in healthy con­di­tion, vi­tal for breed­ing in spring.

Nat­u­ral food is cov­ered in snow and ice and im­pos­si­ble to get to. Wa­ter birds may be forced to leave iced-over lakes and rivers. The ground be­comes too hard for birds like thrushes and lap­wings to probe, and nat­u­ral food like berries, acorns and seeds is buried.

Dur­ing cold snaps like this cur­rent one, birds are more likely to come into our gar­dens to seek sanc­tu­ary. Peo­ple can help im­prove birds’ chances of sur­vival through these cold pe­ri­ods by pro­vid­ing food like meal worms, fat balls, crushed peanuts, dried fruit and seeds and grain.

They could also put out left­overs like grated cheese, por­ridge oats, soft fruit, un­salted ba­con, cooked rice and pasta and the in­sides of cooked pota­toes.

Wa­ter is also vi­tal for both drink­ing and bathing and bird baths can be kept from freez­ing over us­ing small float­ing items like twigs or ping pong balls.

Chris Col­lett, RSPB spokesper­son said: “As win­ter ar­rives with a vengeance again this week, our gar­den birds will be in for a nasty shock. In­sects be­come harder to find and seeds and berries can be locked away by snow and frost.

“Freez­ing weather is a po­ten­tial death sen­tence for many birds but by RSPB feed­ing the birds in your gar­den, peo­ple can help them sur­vive the worst of the win­ter weather. Just a lit­tle wa­ter, food and shel­ter can turn your gar­den into a vi­tal haven for birds in the freez­ing win­ter months.”

The RSPB is ask­ing peo­ple to fol­low a wild bird win­ter sur­vival plan that will help wildlife dur­ing the harsh­est weather.

1. Put out feed reg­u­larly, es­pe­cially in se­vere weather. Set up a bird ta­ble and use high calo­rie seed mixes. This can also be used to put out kitchen scraps such as an­i­mal fats, grated cheese and por­ridge oats.

2. Put out hang­ing feed­ers for black sun­flower seeds, sun­flower hearts, sun­flower-rich mixes or un­salted peanuts.

3. En­sure a sup­ply of fresh wa­ter ev­ery day. If it is very cold use tepid wa­ter but DO NOT use any an­tifreeze prod­ucts.

4. Put out fruit, such as ap­ples and pears, for black­birds, song thrushes and other mem­bers of the thrush fam­ily.

5. Food bars or fat hung up or rubbed into the bark of trees is a great help for tree-creep­ers, gold crests and many other species.

6. Put up nest boxes to pro­vide roost sites for the smaller birds. They will then be used for breed­ing later in the year.

Left­overs from Christ­mas or New Year meals can also pro­vide a wel­come boost for wildlife - cake crumbs, pas­try and cheese are all read­ily eaten by wild birds.

Peo­ple may also no­tice a change in the be­hav­iour of birds given the ex­treme con­di­tions. You may wit­ness a flurry of ac­tiv­ity first thing in the morn­ing – as birds re­plen­ish en­ergy lost overnight - and last thing in the af­ter­noon - to pre­pare for the long night ahead.

Dur­ing a hard win­ter birds have to feed at an ac­cel­er­ated rate, but must also take ad­e­quate time out to rest and con­serve en­ergy. Many birds be­come more so­cia­ble to im­prove their chances of sur­vival dur­ing cold weather. Flock­ing to­gether in win­ter im­proves the chances of lo­cat­ing food and hud­dling to­gether dur­ing the crit­i­cal night-time pe­riod helps con­serve body heat.

The abil­ity to fly is also a key to sur­vival and can lead to sud­den - and dra­matic - changes in the bird life of an area. Fly­ing to milder re­gions in search of ar­eas less af­fected by the weather or where food is still read­ily avail­able is a vi­tal tac­tic.

Gar­den birds ben­e­fit sig­nif­i­cantly from the in­creased va­ri­ety and qual­ity of food that peo­ple put out in their gar­dens. The RSPB Bird­care range of­fers a wide va­ri­ety of high qual­ity food and 100% of the prof­its go to wildlife con­ser­va­tion. See www. rspb­shop.co.uk for full de­tails.

More in­for­ma­tion on help­ing gar­den wildlife is at www.rspb.org.uk

A great spot­ted wood­pecker

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