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Helping wild birds during winter

At this time of year, life can be tough for wild birds. A cold snap can mean they need more energy just to keep warm and shorter days leave less time to find food.

To help wild birds survive frosty days and nights, they require food with a high fat content to help them maintain their fat reserves and give them an energy boost. If food shortages occur when birds have young in the nest, they may be tempted by food put on bird tables to make up the shortfall in natural food, initially to feed themselves, but if the situation gets bad enough, they will also take the food to the nest.

It can be difficult to gauge when food shortages in the wild will occur. It’s best not to put out food that is likely to create problems during the breeding season. Our helpful guide will provide hints and tips on which is the best type of food to provide or whether there’s anything to avoid. Whatever food you use, always make sure it’s fresh.

Know your feathered visitors

Different species eat different things. Sparrows and Finches like seeds; Tits like fat; and Thrushes and Robins like fruit and worms. Starlings will eat just about anything. Make sure you’re providing the right menu for your garden diners.

Look out for leftovers

Some of our own food can be good for birds such as, fruit cake, mince pies, dried fruit, unsalted crushed, chopped nuts, or apples and pears past their best. It’s useful to know that garden birds can digest fermented dairy products, such as cheese. Mild grated cheese can be a great way to attract Robins, Wrens, and Dunnocks. If you are going to use dried fruit such as grapes, currants, raisins, or sultanas be careful if you own a dog. Vine fruits can be toxic to dogs, so always ensure they are not within easy reach.

Never put out loose whole peanuts, dry hard foods, large chunks of bread, or fats during the spring or summer months. And putting out turkey fat is a big no-no. It’s too soft and will stick to bird feathers, preventing them from keeping waterproof and warm. Avoid anything mouldy or salty as too much salt is poisonous to small birds.

Choose the right stuff

Bird seed mixtures can be used for feeders, bird tables and for ground feeding. The high-quality mixtures contain plenty of flaked maize, sunflower seeds, and peanut granules.  These are an excellent year-round food, and in many ways are even more popular than peanuts.

Black sunflower seeds are another good choice, they have a good oil content. Black seeds have a higher oil content than the striped seeds, so they are much better. Sunflower hearts (the husked kernels) are a popular no-mess food.

If you have a fat ball feeder, fat balls and other fat-based food bars are excellent winter food. These are densely packed with essential energy and fats for birds. Mealworms are relished by Robins and Blue Tits and may attract other insect-eating birds such as Pied Wagtails. Mealworms are a natural food source, and you can feed them to birds throughout the year.

Put out the right amount of food

Be careful not to be too generous with the portions, always adjust the quantity given to the demand, and never allow uneaten foods to accumulate around the feeders or on bird tables. This will only attract unwanted visitors like rats. It’s best to feed birds twice a day, put food out in the morning and mid-afternoon. Once you establish a feeding routine, try not to change it as the birds will become used to it and time their visits to your garden accordingly.

Water source

Birds need to drink and bathe every day – even when it’s cold outside. They need to stay hydrated and maintain their feathers. A purpose-made birdbath is a good choice, but even an upturned bin lid or deep plant saucer can give birds the water they need. Just replenish the water daily especially in freezing weather or add a water drinker that hangs at the feeding station. Keep your birdbath and drinkers hygienically clean using a dedicated wildlife disinfectant to prevent bacteria and disease spreading. Position your water source in a safe, open spot. This way predators can’t prey on the birds while their attention is diverted.

Keep it clean

Dirty bird feeders and bird tables can spread diseases. Make sure to clean them regularly to keep wild birds healthy and happy.

Here at Gates, we have an extensive selection of wild bird care products to help look after and encourage wild birds to your outside space. Shop our wide range of products in-store or online for home delivery.