INFOGRAPHIC: Top tips for looking after birds this winter

Birdwatching experts are appealing to homeowners to look after their small feathered friends in the coming months by leaving out a selection of seeds, nuts and scraps for them.

During winter the ground becomes harder, making it difficult for birds to dig for worms and other insects. Berries, grain, fruit and seeds are also hard to come by. Gardens become invaluable havens — a large number rely on food sourced from bird tables and feeders.

“It’s very important to feed the birds all year round, but especially in winter. They’re so small that they need to burn a lot of fat to constantly generate heat which means they could lose a third of their bodyweight overnight. They really need to feed from daylight to dawn to survive and to go into breeding season in good health,” said Oran O’Sullivan, chief operating officer at Birdwatch Ireland.

“If you do put out a feeder, it’s important to keep it topped up. Once birds find you they like to come back. They eat seeds, scraps, fruit. On our website there are recipes and things you can do with kids to get them involved. You can make a bird cake with fat and nuts and use items like a yoghurt pot as a mould.”

Birdwatch Ireland has also provided some useful advice on what to feed birds:

Nuts: Peanuts are the most popular food. Buy from a reputable supplier as mouldy peanuts can kill birds. Ensure all peanuts are fed from a mesh peanut feeder, as whole peanuts can be harmful to young birds.

Seeds: Black sunflower seed is a nutritious and popular food . It has a higher oil level and energy value than the striped-shell variety of sunflower seed. ‘Mixed Wildbird Seed’ is often sold at a seemingly good price but often doesn’t attract the birds as much of the mixture is either wheat or corn. Apart from pigeons, few garden birds can digest this.

Fats: Fat is a nutritious food for garden birds. Lumps of suet may be hung out, as well as meat trimmings, bacon rinds and table scraps. ‘Fat Balls’ can be bought in pet shops but you can also do a home-made version by pouring melted fat over bread or cake scraps. Use half a pound of fat per pound of dry ingredients. Coconut shells and yogurt cartons make suitable moulds.

Fruit: Apples and pears cut in half and placed on the ground will attract Blackbirds and Song Thrushes and possibly Redwing and Fieldfare. Spearing cut apples onto the ends of branches will attract Blackcaps. Smaller fruit such as grapes will also be taken. A coconut sawn in half and hung upside down from a tree is enjoyed by tits.

Grain-based foods: Bread, biscuits and stale cake. Modern processed bread is not suitable for wild birds and should be avoided where possible. Grated wholemeal bread should be moistened slightly as it makes it easier for the birds to swallow. Moist bread is also less likely to blow away. In very cold weather, cheese scattered on the ground beneath bushes should attract wrens and help them through difficult conditions.

In addition to feeding birds this winter, Birdwatch Ireland is also asking people to take note of the different types of birds they see coming to the tables and feeders.

The organisation’s annual Garden Bird Survey will be launched next Monday, November 30. They are asking people to track the species of bird visiting their gardens over a 13-week period.

Rules of feeding

  • Feed regularly. Don’t put out lots of feeders and then forget to refill them.Birds can become dependant on a food source during a harsh weather.
  • Only use fresh peanuts and seed. Do not feed mouldy, wrinkled, or wizened peanuts or seed.
  • Ensure fresh water is always available for drinking and bathing. An upturned dustbin lid with a stone in it is often all that is required. Remove the ice in cold weather.
  • Birds often feed on the ground below a feeder. Make sure there is no shrubbery nearby that may conceal a cat, and try to keep all feeders at least 5ft above the ground.
  • Wash all feeders and change the water in the bird bath on a regular basis.

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