The winter months are harsh for wildlife. With the cold temperatures setting in and lack of shelter from the trees it can be challenging to find food and stay warm. Support feeding wild birds in your garden can be a great way of supporting them over the winter period. British wild birds all have a varied diet so what we feed them, or what feed we offer, will determine what species we support. 

First things first, cleanliness is key

One of the biggest causes of morbidity and mortality in wildlife in the winter months is disease. Trichomonosis (also known as frounce or canker), avian pox virus and parasites are some of the most common conditions affecting our bird species at this time of year. These diseases are often spread by close contact between birds. And one of the biggest breeding grounds for spreading disease are bird feeders.

Whilst supporting birds by feeding them in the winter months is important, it is also really important that we keep bird feeders clean. This means removing uneaten food daily, and cleaning the surfaces that birds land on to feed with a bird safe disinfectant to reduce the risk of disease building up and infecting any visiting birds. Always be aware that birds can carry diseases that are transmissible to humans. So it’s important to always wear gloves and wash your hands anytime you touch anything a wild bird may have been in contact with to reduce your risk.

Unsure what to feed? Think variety!

The wild birds that visit our gardens can be split into three categories based on the type of food they eat, those are:
– insectivores (insect eaters)
– granivores (seed eaters)
– omnivores (eat seed and insect)

In order to cater for all requirements it is ideal to provide a variety of bird feed; ranging from small and large seed, sunflower hearts and peanuts to fat balls and dried and live insects. You can purchase these from your local pet store. 

Where to feed?

Bird feeding tables and hanging feeders are popular options when it comes to feeding wild birds in the garden. These are good options for the majority of species as they allow them to come and go as needed. However, some species are less likely to feed at these tables especially if they are exposed, or in the middle of the garden, as they prefer the shelter and security of being protected or in an enclosed space. 

It is therefore useful to position bird tables and hanging feeders in a variety of locations in the garden with some more visible and others more hidden amongst the trees. Birds can be selective about where they choose to feed from. And more birds are likely to benefit from the additional feed being provided. 

Another option discussed in this great article by the woodland trust, is to place some food on branches, smear fat balls in cracks on trees and sprinkle seed under shrubs for ground feeding birds.

How to feed

This may seem a simple concept, however it is important to realise we don’t want garden birds to be solely reliant on the feed provided in your garden as they may struggle to find food resources elsewhere if you are unable to provide feed in the future. If, for example, you are away on holiday or move house etc. Therefore it is important to vary the location of the feeders in your garden. And vary the frequency and timing of feeding to encourage birds to continue to forage and look in multiple locations for sources of food, and reduce the predictability and routine. 
Another benefit of this is it’s less predictable for predators such as cats and birds of prey. Therefore they are less likely to know when and where exactly birds will be in your garden at any time; which reduces the risk of them being attacked whilst feeding.

Gardening for wild birds

As well as providing additional food on feeders it can be worth considering planting your garden with trees and shrubs that will flower all year and provide shelter for birds during the winter months. Plants which produce late ripening berries are a good option for many garden birds. And they can provide a natural source of food throughout the winter months and reduce the need for additional supplementation.

– Support feeding wild birds over the winter can be a great help when natural food resources reduce
– Cleanliness is really important to minimise the spread of disease between birds
– Feeding a variety of different feeds is best to support a larger variety of species
– Consider changing the location of feeders, using alternative feeding methods and changing the routine of feeding to best support wild birds in your garden

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