Feeding tips for garden birds facing battle for survival over winter months

News Shopper: A fieldfare eating an apple in the snow, picture courtesy of RSPB A fieldfare eating an apple in the snow, picture courtesy of RSPB

AS A wintry chill creeps over News Shopper’s patch, experts are warning about the plight of wild birds. SARAH TROTTER digs out tips for feeding feathered friends in the garden.

PLUNGING temperatures and ice this winter will leave garden birds "vulnerable", hungry and battling to survive, experts say.

News Shopper: Woodpigeon feeding, picture courtesy of RSPB

Residents are urged to leave high energy foods such as peanuts, fat balls, and black sunflower seeds out regularly for them.

It comes after pet shop chain Pets At Home found 59 per cent of Brits rarely or never fed birds during the winter months last year.

News Shopper: Robin feeding on table, picture courtesy of RSPB

Store manager at Blackheath’s Pets at Home, Nick Briscoe, said: "Wild birds are particularly vulnerable at this time of the year because the majority of people often forget to put food out for them.

"Combined with the freezing cold weather, it can be a very difficult for the birds to survive."

While senior conservation officer for nature conservation charity RSPB in the south east, Lucy Baker, added: "Feedings birds can make a real difference, particularly when the weather is cold.

"At this time of year, there are a lot more birds in your garden looking for food.

"They need higher energy foods for when the winter really gets cold. Things like fat balls will keep them warm."

News Shopper: Great tit feeding, picture courtesy of RSPB

She added: "Something people often forget is a supply of drinking water."

She suggested gently breaking ice in a frozen pond to keep water flowing or putting a ball in the pond to stop it freezing over.

Speaking of the importance of setting up a regular feeding routine, she added: "They will forage where they can, if they know they are getting a nice regular supply of food, that is good for them and they can save energy rather than forage."

Top wild bird foods:

  • Bird seed mixtures - better ones contain plenty of flaked maize, sunflower seeds, and peanut granules. Avoid seed mixtures that have split peas, beans, dried rice or lentils.
  • Fat balls - high energy treats. Make your own by pouring melted fat, such as suet or lard, onto a mixture of ingredients such as seeds, nuts, dried fruit, oatmeal, cheese and cake. Use about one-third fat to two-thirds mixture. Stir in a bowl and set in a container such as an empty coconut shell or plastic cup
  • Peanuts: Rich in fat and popular with many wild birds, especially tits and sparrows. Do not use salted or dry roasted peanuts and buy from a reputable dealer
  • Sunflower hearts: One of the highest sources of energy for wild birds. No mess as the husk is already removed. Particularly attractive to finches, tits, blackbirds and house sparrows
  • Black sunflower seeds: Very high in oil content, providing lots of energy. Ideal for chaffinches, greenfinches, sparrows and tits
  • Mealworms: Very high in protein. A favourite for robins, blue tits and songbirds -Need to be fresh
  • Cooked rice, brown or white, without salt added, will be eaten during severe winter weather.

Do not use:

- Dry dog and cat biscuits as birds may choke on the hard lumps.

- Cooked fat from roasting tins and dishes is bad for birds - Mouldy and stale food - Never give milk to any bird.

- Polyunsaturated margarines or vegetable oils - cooked porridge oats

For more information and to buy feed visit petsathome.com/shop/wildlife/wildlife-food-feeders/ or rspb.org.uk

Comments (2)

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6:31pm Wed 11 Dec 13

molsey says...

I give my wild bird a gin and tonic.
I give my wild bird a gin and tonic. molsey

6:38am Thu 12 Dec 13

Witchkid says...

Please give a thought to the once common House Sparrow when feeding birds. They are now on the RSPB Red List, and their numbers are declining rapidly. This could be due to insecticides, because baby sparrows need insects, not seed, and definitely not bread. With the cold Springs we've been having, there is no food, and the babies die. Putting out mealworms (dried are fine) will ensure they survive. Once sparrows and other birds know there is a regular food source, they will come to your garden, and during the warmer months will repay you by clearing aphids and greenfly from your plants!

Starlings are also declining. They eat fruit and insects, not bread as is commonly thought. A nice mix of dried mealworms and sultanas is perfect. During the colder months, a box or two of suet mixed in with the bird food will go down a treat, and help the birds to stay warm.

Waterfowl also appreciate being fed, but please do not feed them white bread. They will eat it, but it causes malnutrition, especially in young birds, which can result in wing deformity. Cheap bird food containing maize and wheat is excellent for them. If you must feed them bread, make it granary.
Please give a thought to the once common House Sparrow when feeding birds. They are now on the RSPB Red List, and their numbers are declining rapidly. This could be due to insecticides, because baby sparrows need insects, not seed, and definitely not bread. With the cold Springs we've been having, there is no food, and the babies die. Putting out mealworms (dried are fine) will ensure they survive. Once sparrows and other birds know there is a regular food source, they will come to your garden, and during the warmer months will repay you by clearing aphids and greenfly from your plants! Starlings are also declining. They eat fruit and insects, not bread as is commonly thought. A nice mix of dried mealworms and sultanas is perfect. During the colder months, a box or two of suet mixed in with the bird food will go down a treat, and help the birds to stay warm. Waterfowl also appreciate being fed, but please do not feed them white bread. They will eat it, but it causes malnutrition, especially in young birds, which can result in wing deformity. Cheap bird food containing maize and wheat is excellent for them. If you must feed them bread, make it granary. Witchkid

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