The nights are getting colder and the days shorter, both of these can have a huge and often negative effect on our birds. Birds need extra food to keep them warm during chilly nights, the reduced daylight hours mean there is less time to search for natural food which as the winter progresses will become scarcer, this is why the RSPB have launched ‘Feed the Birds Day’ to raise awareness on how important it is to put out food for our wonderful feathered friends. This year it is on Saturday 24th October which is the last day of British Summer Time when the clocks go forward and it will then go darker an hour earlier.
How and what should we feed the birds
If possible put out different types of food in a variety of feeders which will be suitable for a wide range of birds, when the weather is cold birds need to eat 40% of their own body weight per day to survive.
Nut feeders are made from rigid steel mesh, which is large enough to prevent birds from damaging their beaks yet will only allow small pieces of nut to be removed. Peanuts are high in fat, buy certified peanuts from a reputable supplier as some poor quality peanuts can contain the natural toxin called Aflatoxin which can kill birds, never give birds salted or dry roasted peanuts. Will attract: Tits, Greenfinches, Sparrows, Nuthatches, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Siskins, crushed nuts are favoured by Robins, Dunnocks and Wrens.
Seed Feeders often consist of a clear cylindrical tube with feeding ports and perching rings at the bottom of the feeder. Fill with Sunflower Seeds, Sunflower Hearts (both are high energy foods) or seed mixtures specifically for seed feeders. Will attract House Sparrows, Dunnocks, Finches and Collared Doves. Tits and Greenfinches favour sunflower seeds and crushed peanuts.
Nyjer Seed Feeders have very small feeding ports to control the flow of seed and minimise waste, although it is very fine Nyjer Seed is rich in oil and highly nutritious. A favourite of Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Siskins.
Fat Ball/Cake Feeders are designed to hold fat balls or fat cakes, always remove any nylon mesh bags before placing them in your feeders, these bags are a hazard to wildlife and birds can become entangled and injured. Fat Balls/Cakes can also be put on to all Bird Tables whole or broken up. Popular with all birds especially the Tit family.
Peanut Butter Feeders will provide your birds with a nutritious, high energy treat, refills are available in different flavours (original, nut, mealworm, insect) which are specially formulated for birds, do not give birds peanut butter for human consumption as it has a very high salt content. A favourite of the Tit family.
Live Mealworms are an important source of protein and extremely beneficial in Spring for young chicks and adults throughout the winter when insects are scarce. Serve your mealworms in a container with smooth, vertical sides so that they cannot escape. The Robin is often the first to the dish but they attract Wrens, Dunnocks, Tits, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Starlings and House Sparrows.
Bird Tables are available in many different designs; freestanding, hanging, wall mounted or ground. Bird tables that have a roof will give protection to birds from predators and keep the food dry.
Ground Bird Tables are especially useful for ground feeding and larger birds such as Blackbirds, Thrushes and Starlings, they will still be used by smaller birds too. Elevating the food off the ground reduces the risk of hygiene problems, move the table around the garden to avoid the build up of any waste food or droppings, only put out enough food that will be eaten to avoid attracting vermin.
Bird Baths are very important and provide your birds with a supply of fresh water for drinking and bathing throughout the year, they should been cleaned out regularly and replaced with fresh water daily especially during warm weather and freezing conditions.
It may be tempting to ‘treat’ your birds to some of your leftovers but this can do more harm than good:
- Bread – although not harmful to birds it is not very nutritional and just fills them up
- Salty Food – including salted or dry roasted peanuts can dehydrate them
- Cooking fat from roasted meats, polyunsaturated margarines or vegetable oils – Can contain bacteria and salt, soft fats can smear on feathers destroying their waterproofing and insulating qualities. Hard fats such as Lard and Beef Suet are fine.
- Milk – cannot be digested and can cause stomach upsets, cheese can be given safely.
- Stale or Mouldy Food – can cause respiratory problems and salmonella.
The Urban Bird Feeder
Regularly clean bird feeders, bird tables and bird baths, wash well using a stiff brush and a mild disinfectant, rinse and allow to completely dry out before refilling. Wash them outside use separate utensils, wearing gloves and wash your hands afterwards. Throw away mouldy bird food from feeders and tables if there is a surplus reduce the amount that you put out, excess food on the ground can attract rats and mice.
Now is the time to check your feeders, buy some new ones and stock up on your bird food for the winter, why not get the children involved, then sit back and enjoy watching the birds in your garden.
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