With the storms we have been experiencing and nights of minus temperatures on the forecast, the birds are going to be feeling the brunt of the winter weather.
Although the days are slowly lengthening, there are still only a few limited hours of daylight for birds to feed, whilst simply surviving the long nights of freezing or storm-buffeting requires a huge amount of energy. This means that high energy foods, for little effort, are top of the birds' wish-lists and the search for this often pushes birds to be bolder, and even range outside of their usual habitats or territory. This is why we often see larger numbers of birds or more unusual birds in our gardens in winter, as our lovingly cared for and sheltered gardens offer a sanctuary for these hungry birds.
So what is on the menu?
Well most invertebrates have spent out their life-cycles before the cold weather struck, and the rest are tucked away hibernating, so picking out the spiders and bugs from their crevices is a tricky game of hide-and-seek. There are berries too, and weed seeds, although these were dwindling; either eaten already or rotting and washed away by the rain.
Although a traditional food, bread is actually bad for birds, as it fills them up with bulk but almost no nutrition. Seed mixes, peanuts, suet balls and fat cakes, live or dried mealworms/insects are all available to buy from a variety of shops or suppliers to suit most budgets, or you can put out kitchen scraps such as cheese, fruit, bacon and other fats, pastry and even left over cooked potato. (Don't forget that fresh water is vital to birds too, for both drinking and bathing in all weathers.)
In my own garden I feed sunflower hearts in hanging feeders which are popular with the tits, finches, and even a nuthatch. The robin has learnt to cling on to the perches to steal a few seeds too!
For birds such as the dunnock and blackbird, I offer a mix of seeds, suet nibbles and dried mealworms on open trays, often supplemented with raisins, grated cheese or a very occasional treat of a handful of fruit-cake crumbs. The starlings gobble most offerings quite happily, however they are most fond of the fat-filled half-coconut-shells that I hang up.
Today I added a new addition to this banquet. A few weeks ago, knowing my passion for wildlife, my parents gave me an unusual present. It was a chunky log with a number of holes drilled into it and a hook screwed into one end. This was my new bird feeder.
This afternoon I decided to put it into action and make some 'bird cake'.
My ingredients were:
- a block of lard,
- dried mealworms,
- a small amount of mixed seed,
- some berries/fruit (I used the holly and ivy berries and rosehips off our christmas wreath, that had been abandoned outside the back door)
I put the lard in a hot place in the house for a few minuets, to soften just enough to be 'squishable' and allow me to mix in my other ingredients. I then simply crammed this delightfully sticky mixture into the holes in the log. I had some left over mixture, so strung an old little terracotta pot with strong string to enable me to hang it up, and filled it with the remaining mixture. Both feeders were hung in the garden to await the morning's hungry visitors.