Another wildlife-friendly post from us this week:
Feeding garden birds during the colder weather provides valuable supplemental food for many and for some it is critical to their survival. Making food available all year round give them a better chance of remembering your garden when food is scarce but you should reduce the amount on offer during the warmer months when natural food is easier to find. Perhaps most importantly, once you start feeding birds, don't stop (certainly not in the cold months) as they will learn to rely on the food source and may make a long, exhausting flight to your garden in the expectation of a good meal.
Make a winter bird feeder
You will need:
• 250g block of lard or suet, cut into cubes and left to soften at room temperature for an hour.
• 100g seed mix (any combination of pumpkin and sunflower seeds, bird peanuts or other bird feed mix – see below)
• 25g raisins or other dried fruit.
• A handful of grated hard cheese or oatmeal.
If any of your pinecones are tightly closed then store them in a warm place overnight to encourage them to open up.
Then start by making a basic bird cake mix. Place all of the food ingredients in a large bowl and mix together well with your hands.
Tie a length of string securely around each pinecone (making sure you have plenty left to secure the other end to a tree or fence post). Squash the cake mix into all of the small spaces in the cone and then mould the mixture all around it to form a ball. Place in the fridge to cool and harden slightly for an hour. Then tie your feeders onto a branch or post in your garden where you can watch the visiting birds. Remember to keep an eye on the feeders and replenish them with new ones when they are nearly empty.
If you don't have any pinecones, you can use an old (clean) yoghurt pot. Just make a small hole in the base of the pot, thread the string though and secure with a large knot. Then pack the seed mix into the pot, cool in the fridge and hang as above.
What to feed birds
However you plan to feed your garden birds, it's important to give them a healthy, balanced diet. Most garden centres sell bird seed that provides a good mixture of proteins and fats that birds need. Natural foods including mealworms and other dried insects have become popular in recent years and are very popular.
Just as important are a few things not to feed to birds:
Although peanuts have lots of good fats and nutrition for small birds, they can contain high levels of a natural toxin called aflatoxin. Buy peanuts from garden centres and pet dealers which are specifically sold as bird food and which will have suitably low toxin levels. Birds cannot process high levels of salt so salted and flavoured peanuts are also off the avian menu.
Leftover cooking fat is bad for birds because, together with meat juices, it can stick to feathers and promote bacterial growth. Pure lard (as we use in our bird feeder) is suitable because bacteria do not breed so easily on it.
Although fresh coconut in a half shell is a welcome treat, dried (desiccated) coconut shouldn't be used as it will swells up in their stomachs.
Mouldy bread is another bird table favourite but some moulds can be toxic so fresh food is definitely preferable. In any event, bread provides much less nutrition than seeds and nuts so is best avoided.
Remember always to give your birds access to water too.