At the end of January, temperatures plummeted and the white stuff even made a brief appearance. But, when the snowmen have long since melted and the snowball fights are over, spare a thought for the wildlife in and around your garden this winter.
Firstly, garden birds need a high fat, high energy diet at this time of year, to see them through the colder and leaner months and to prepare them for the breeding season.
If you don’t already have a bird feeder (or as many as you like!) in your garden, consider adding a few. These can either be hung from secure tree branches or on a purpose-bought feeder pole, widely available.
If you know which types of birds currently visit your garden, you may want to ensure that you are buying feeders and food aimed at their needs and preferences. The RSPB website is a great source of information on this (it’s also an excellent wildlife charity that we support monthly, along with several others – further food for thought in case of interest).
If you want to feed and attract a range of garden birds, popular staples in winter include suet (fat) balls, Sunflower seeds, Nyjer seeds, mealworms and peanuts (not salted or dry roasted as these may be harmful). Certain leftovers, ranging from apples and pears to grated cheese can also be good. As we move into spring, and breeding season, peanuts and fat balls should be avoided as they aren’t suitable for birds to feed to their young. Again, see the RSPB website for details.
And add a bird bath or similar if you can, to provide birds with a drink all year round.
It’s also important to ensure that feeders and baths are regularly emptied and cleaned to avoid food becoming contaminated and harming birds.
Some will worry about attracting cats and other predators by welcoming more birds to your garden but the reality is that they may pose a threat to garden birds anywhere. Simply try to place your feeders in locations that cats or other animals may find it harder to reach and at least four – five feet from the ground. If you are aware (like us) that squirrels frequent your garden, consider purchasing or adding a ‘baffle’ if you are using a feeder pole or place feeders in harder to reach spots.
And, even if you are surrounded by trees, consider adding a couple of nesting boxes to your garden. Again, pick ones to suit your current visitors or the birds you hope to attract. Boxes should ideally be facing between north and east and in a sheltered spot with easy access at least six feet high. Always ensure that they are securely placed to avoid accidents down the line.
As I’ve shared in a previous column, one of our highlights during lockdown last year was watching fledgling Blue Tits leaving their nesting box in our garden for the first time. A moment we’d have missed during more normal times. That same group of Blue Tits (we think) have been regularly spotted in our garden ever since and we hope they will return to nest in the coming months.
Don’t forget about other visitors too. For example, you may want to invest in a hedgehog house, a place for a hedgehog to hibernate or find safe haven. Ensure that you buy (or indeed make) one that is recommended by a wildlife charity – some can be too small and result in hedgehogs becoming trapped. For more on how to help these beautiful but endangered animals, visit the RSPCA or Woodland Trust websites. The latter also has some great information on adding insect ‘hotels’ and creating other habitats in your garden.
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