RSPB appeal to help garden birds survive winter following Met Office warning

| 29th November 2017
Robin Erithacus rubecula, adult bird perched on branch on frosty morning

Robin Erithacus rubecula, adult bird perched on branch on frosty morning, Bedfordshire, December

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Winter is coming. The Met Office has warned Britain should brace for a cold spell. And so the RSPB is asking everyone to take care of our garden birds. BRENDAN MONTAGUE reports

The RSPB suggests calorie-rich foods like mixed seed, nyjer seed, sunflower seed and good-quality peanuts.

The RSPB is appealing to people to help our garden birds survive the winter following a Met Office warning that low temperatures are set to sweep across the UK. 

Birds across the UK will "start to struggle as soon as the cold snap kicks in" even though they have benefitting from a mild autumn, according to the charity.

The countryside becomes bare as natural food sources dwindle, but more energy is needed just to keep warm and the short days leave less time to find food. The nature charity says there are three key things that birds will need this winter: food, water and shelter.

Charlotte Ambrose, a RSPB Wildlife Advisor, said: “Up until now birds have been able to feed on insects and seeds, but the cold weather means they move into our gardens to find refuge. You can make a real difference and improve their chances of survival, as well as being rewarded by great views of wildlife in your garden or outside space”

Top tips to keeping your birds happy this winter:

Variety is the spice: The best thing you can do is to provide a variety of food. But to keep energy up during the colder months, the RSPB suggests calorie-rich foods like mixed seed, nyjer seed, sunflower seed and good-quality peanuts.

Make your own: Fat balls or homemade bird cakes only take a few minutes to make and are a great children’s activity. These can be made cheaply with lard or suet and are an excellent full-fat winter food.

Spare some scraps: You don’t have to buy food in specially, kitchen scraps like mild grated cheese, old fruit, cooked rice, unsalted bits of fat, roast potatoes and raw porridge oats will all be gratefully received.

No thank you! There are some foods you should avoid as they can be dangerous for birds. Cooking fat from the roast or Christmas turkey mixes with meat juices during cooking to make a runny, greasy mixture. This sticks to feathers and stop them from being waterproof. Other foods to avoid are dried coconut, cooked porridge oats, milk, and mouldy or salted food.

Keep it fresh: Another essential is fresh water for drinking and bathing. Finding sources of water can be hard with freezing temperatures, but a simple trick will help keep a patch of water ice-free. Float a small ball, such as a ping-pong ball, on the surface of the water and even a light breeze will stop it from freezing over.

Hide in a hedge: Providing shelter from the harsh weather is extremely important. Plant dense hedges such as privet or hawthorn, or let ivy or holly to grow and you’ll be providing a great place to roost in and shelter from the elements.

Warmth is key: Nestboxes are not just used over the summer egg-laying season – many birds will use them on a cold winter’s night. These boxes are frequently communal with many residents packing in together for extra warmth. The record number of birds found in one box is 63 wrens!

The RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch is on Saturday 27 Sunday 28 and Monday 29 January 2018. To take part, all you need to do is spend one hour at any time over that weekend noting the number of avian visitors to your garden or nearby park. You can sign up for this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch from December 13 rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.

A spokesperson said: "Ensuring your garden is filled with food now will improve your chances of having a successful Big Garden Birdwatch".

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. He tweets at @EcoMontague.