Winter is a tough time for our garden visitors, with little daylight to find food and cold weather meaning our feathered friends need lots of energy just to keep the cold at bay. December is a super time to set up an inviting Winter Bird Cafe for your garden visitors.
The RSBP have lots of good advice on caring for the bird wildlife in your garden, and there are lots of facts you probably didn’t know – e.g. never feed salty foods and putting out turkey /goose fat is a big no-no (it’s so soft it’ll stick to birds’ feathers and stop them from keeping waterproof and warm).
Please see the advice below from the RSPB on setting up a suitable Winter Bird Cafe.
Birds require high energy (high fat) foods during the cold winter weather to maintain their fat reserves to survive the frosty nights. Use only good quality food and scraps.
- What to feed. Different birds prefer different foods, in the different seasons and different parts of the country. So try these different types of food and adapt to what works best in your garden. The RSPB have a list of the different feeds suitable for different birds here.
Some of our own food can be good for birds – for example, fruit cake or mince pies, dried fruit, unsalted nuts, or apples and pears past their best. Try sprinkling grated mild cheese under trees and bushes for more timid birds like wrens and dunnocks.
- What not to feed. Importantly, there are some foods you should never put out. Avoid all salted foods as they dehydrate birds. Never put out loose peanuts, dry, hard foods or large chunks of bread during the spring or summer months. Parent birds might take these back to their nests and their young can choke on it.
How to feed. It’s good to invest in quality feeders and roofed bird tables, which will keep food dry and stop it going off. As a good start, try:
a hanging plastic feeder containing sunflower hearts for (mainly) finches, tits and sparrows
a hanging mesh feeder with peanuts for (mainly) tits
a hanging mesh feeder with fat balls for (mainly) tits and sparrows.
The next step up is a nyjer seed feeder for goldfinches, a ground feeder or bird table with an oat/fruit/fatty nibbles mix for robins and blackbirds.
- Where to feed. Place the feeders high enough so they are out of reach of ground predators like cats. They should be a couple of metres away from thick cover like bushes, so that small birds can beat a hasty retreat from aerial predators such as sparrowhawks.If you don’t get any visitors, try a different location.Move the feeders to different locations over the course of a year so that you don’t get a build-up of debris underneath.
- When to feed. It is fine to feed all year-round – just adjust the amount you put out. In summer, when many birds leave to breed in the countryside, they’ll need less food. There’s a lot more food available naturally in autumn and even early winter, as flowers set seed and berries ripen. Fatty foods can go off in summer, so remove any which are past their best.
- Keeping it healthy. Here are our top tips:
Make sure the foods are kept in rodent-proof storage bins
Clean your feeders. Unhygienic feeding stations can quickly transmit diseases between birds, so clean your feeders and bird tables regularly. Wash them down with a mild disinfectant and hot water, rinsing them fully and drying them out before filling them back up with food
Clear up under your feeders – you don’t want a problem with rodents at night.
Dealing with unwanted visitors. You may attract creatures other than those you were hoping to help! Rats, mice, squirrels, pigeons, and members of the crow family can wolf down what was meant for smaller birds. The best solutions are:
-feeders with ‘guardian’ cages around the outside – small birds can slip through the gaps but larger creatures are excluded
-weight-activated feeders which close off the feeding ports when something heavy like a pigeon or squirrel sits on them.
Enjoy the show! Once you’ve got your feeders up in the right place with the right food, sit back with a cup of tea and watch. It’s better than any soap opera!