Millions of people took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch this year, all coming together to look out for birds. The Birdwatch takes places at the height of winter when harsh conditions force birds to visit our gardens more frequently in the search for food. Some species need to consume as much as 30 per cent of their body weight during daylight hours simply to survive the season’s long, cold nights.
It is easy to create a corner of the garden that offers birdlife a much-needed haven through winter.
Birds need energy rich food such as seeds, nuts, fats and mealworms. A small selection of hanging feeders and a bird table is a good start. Place these in a sheltered position; close to nearby bushes, shrubs or trees so the birds can use these as a jumping-off point or to seek cover. Refill the feeders promptly to encourage birds to visit regularly.
The RSPB recommends planting thick hedges such as hawthorn or privet and letting holly and ivy grow in your garden to provide birds with cosy cover to roost in. Fruit and berry bearing trees and shrubs such as malus, pyracantha, cotoneaster, rowan and honeysuckle also provide an extra source of food in the winter.
Suet cakes studded with seeds are like energy bars for birds! Melt 500g of suet in a large pan and stir in 500g of mixed bird seed, and up to 750g of scraps such as grated cheese, chopped peanuts, sultanas and old biscuit crumbs. Pour into moulds and leave to set. You can customise cakes for different birds: insect cakes for tits, berry cakes for finches and peanut cakes for starlings.
Reduce food waste by redirecting kitchen leftovers to the bird table. For example, cheese rind, cooked rice or pasta, overripe fruit and windfalls can all be used. Keep a watching brief on what goes down well and remove uneaten food from feeding areas. Wash bird tables and feeders with soapy water regularly to reduce the risk of birds spreading diseases from one to another.
National Nest Box Week runs every year from 14 February, when small birds begin to think about breeding, but any time is good to put up a nest box. Birds may simply use them as roosting havens during a cold winter or for nesting in the spring. The best nest boxes are well insulated to protect from the winter cold and hot summer sun, with entrances sheltered from wind and rain. Click here for an easy step-by-step guide to building your own nestbox using Millboard offcuts.
Bird baths provide water for drinking and cleaning feathers – they can be as humble as a dustbin lid sunk into the ground. A good bird bath should be sloped to offer different levels of water for different types of bird and textured so that birds can grip it with their claws. Clean and replenish water regularly.
Be more untidy
Leave some dead heads on your plants, so the birds can enjoy feeding on the seeds and let fallen leaves lie on the ground too, as the birds will enjoy foraging for the bugs lurking underneath them.
Take time to sit quietly with a cuppa and enjoy watching the birds flock to the haven you have created. Get the kids interested and involved by using a spotter’s guide.