We, as humans, like to complain about the cold in winter. However, while most of us have a warm home to return to at the end of the day, and food readily available in the fridge, birds have a much harder time of it.
The grim reality of UK bird life is that, if there isn’t enough food and the freezing weather rages on for days at a time, mass deaths can occur, decemating local populations. However, it’s actually possible to make a difference with small actions that will help birds survive these harsh conditions.
So how about making your garden a super bird-friendly place this winter? It can even be a joy for you, doing a good deed for local wildlife, and spotting beautiful native species pop up in your garden throughout the season and beyond! Here are five tips for keeping birds happy in the winter.
Put out high-energy bird food
Birds need lots of energy in winter to keep warm during the cold weather and fuel their search for more food. High energy bird food might include lard or suet, peanut butter, fruit, dried mealworms, and nuts such as sunflower seeds and chopped up peanuts. You can make these yourself, or buy them from a reputable source, such as Grumpy Gardener at QVC.
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Keep drinking and bathing water from freezing
It is easy to create reserves of drinking and bathing water for birds in your garden – you don’t even need a bird bath! You can even turn a garden bin lid upside down, and either fill it with water or wait for the rain to collect.
Keeping the water from freezing requires a little more creativity, but one easy tip is to place a lightweight ball (like a ping pong ball) in the water. The wind will blow it around on the surface, and the movement will help stop the water freezing.
Create winter shelter
Birds will often nest in dense hedges and bushes, such as hawthorn, to acquire shelter and food (in the form of berries and insects). Planting these in your garden will allow birds to use the plants as shelter in winter, but if you can’t plant these, you could instead install a bird box, as long as it is placed in a location that is sheltered from wind, rain and harsh sun.
Don’t tidy your garden too much
Unfortunately, though a tidy garden may look nice, it doesn’t offer much for wildlife. In a slightly messy garden, birds can find sticks, leaves and other debris to use for their nests, and there is more chance of finding insects to snack on.
As proud gardeners, we like to have a presentable outdoor space. However, a little chaos isn’t a bad thing, and is beneficial for our feathered friends!
Avoid feeding birds large chunks of bread
Bread should only be put out in your garden sparingly, as it does not offer much nutrition to birds, and can be difficult to digest in large quantities. If you have bread spare and you don’t want to waste it, tear it up into very small chunks, and only use it if you are also putting out high energy bird food.
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Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook. You can also listen to The Plant Based Podcast with Michael and co-host Ellen-Mary on iTunes, Spotify and Google.