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Garden, Home and Garden

What to Feed Birds In the Winter

what to feed birds in the winter

Winter is just around the corner and our little feather friends need our help over the cold months ahead.  I’ve put together a little handy Moral Fibres guide on what to feed birds in the winter, to help you and the birds out.

There are a few do’s and don’ts about feeding garden birds that perhaps not everyone is aware of, so it’s wise to give this a read over before you pop any food out!

What to Feed Birds In the Winter

how to feed wild birds in your garden

Seeds

When buying bird seed for garden birds look for a high quality mixed bag of seed.  Mixes that contain sunflower seeds, maize and peanut granules are great, as well as ones containing small and large seeds.   These kind of mixes makes them suitable for a wide variety of garden birds.

It is best to avoid mixes containing a high quantity of pulses, such as split peas, lentils, beans, as well as rice, as smaller species of garden birds (who tend to need food the most in winter) are unable to eat these items.

If you’re feeding birds seed bear in mind you’ll need some kind of feeder.  You can either place bird seed loose on a bird table, or in a bird feeder.

Meal Worms

Appreciated by most garden birds all year round, especially robins and blackbirds, meal worms work well placed on a bird table.  Buy good quality ones from a local pet shop or garden centre, or from the RSPB.

If you are especially committed you can breed your own mealworms but I’m the first to admit that I feel a little squeamish about breeding them, so am happy to continue purchasing them from a shop!

Fat Balls

feeding wild birds fat balls

You laughed at that, right?  Admit it!

Yes.  The words ‘fat balls’ always make me giggle too, but in all seriousness, fat balls are a great source of food and energy for garden birds in the winter, and really solve the question of what to feed birds in the winter.  Fat balls tend to be made of lard/suet, nuts, cereals and sunflower seeds, so are densely packed with essential energy and fats for birds.  Great Tits love fat balls (snigger), as do other tits, sparrows, starlings, blackbirds and black caps.

You can make your own fat balls, or you can buy fat balls in pet shops and garden centres.  They tend to come packaged in mesh bags.  Never hang the mesh bag in your garden as the mesh can trap birds feet.  Instead take them out of the bag and put them into a fat ball holder (our one above, taken a couple of years ago in a particularly snowy winter, is a metal one from Homebase), or you can sit them on a bird table.

Fat balls are most appreciated by garden birds in the winter, when fatty food sources are hard to come by.  However you should not put fat balls out in the summer months, as they can rot in the heat, and make birds ill.

Bread

Contrary to popular belief, bread is not the best food to feed to wild birds.  It tends to fill them up with little nutritional benefit, so it is best given to birds as part of a varied assortment of food on your bird table.  Any kind of bread is fine, but brown is preferable, and all bread should be soaked first.

Putting out large chunks of bread during the breeding season (spring and and summer) should be avoided at all costs in case of natural food shortages.   If a natural food shortage occurs birds may feed bread to their hatchlings – potentially causing them to choke and die.

Nuts

feeding wild birds nuts

Nuts should always be put out in your garden in a special nut feeder (as above) that only allows birds to take little nibbles of nuts.  Alternatively you can crush them into very small chunks, as again nuts can pose a choking hazard.

Other Household Food Scraps

Soft fruits, porridge oats (uncooked), grated cheese, cooked pasta and rice, soaked currants, raisins and sultanas, biscuit crumbs and pastry crumbs are all great foods to feed to birds with in the winter.  Fresh coconut is fine, but desiccated coconut should never be given to birds.

Finely chopped unsalted bacon, and fats from other unsalted meats are all ok.  Potatoes, mashed, baked or roasted are also welcomed by birds.  Anything salted should be avoided on your bird table, as should any margarine or soft fats, and anything mouldy or off.

You can also use soaked cat and dog food, and tinned pet food, however it is worth bearing in mind that the use of these may attract cats.

Food scraps should always be placed on a bird-table as sprinkling on the ground can attract rats and mice.

Water

Now we’ve established what to feed birds in the winter, it’s important to talk about water.  All birds appreciate it if you can put out a supply of fresh drinking water by your bird table in a shallow container for drinking.  In winter, this will freeze over quickly, so do try and change it regularly.

Other Advice on Feeding Birds in the Winter

Clean your feeders, tables, water pots, and bird baths regularly to prevent the spread of disease in wild bird populations.  A mild disinfectant liberally diluted in water will do the trick.

Avoid the use of ornamental mirrors in your garden too.  Mirrors can confuse birds: they will see your garden in the mirror and fly straight into the mirror.  This runs the risk of the bird breaking their neck and potentially killing them.

If you are feeding birds very close to your house it is also advisable to place stickers on your windows to deter birds from flying straight at your window, again for the same reasons.

Once you start feeding garden birds for the first time it will take a little while for the birds to find it, so don’t expect swathes of birds instantly!  Here’s a guide on how to attract wild birds to your garden if you are struggling!

And once you start feeding birds, it is best if you can consistently feed them, especially in winter, as they may come to rely on your offerings.

I hope you’ve found this guide on what to feed birds in the winter useful!  Have fun and do remember to report back here and let me know what birds you have seen in your garden!  You may also attract other animals, such as squirrels, which are also fascinating to watch.  My parents accumulated four regular squirrel visitors to their garden last winter, and it was a lot of fun watching them find inventive and unusual ways to get to the food in the feeders!

how to feed garden birds

Garden, Home and Garden

Allotment Ideas: Inspiring Allotments

allotment ideas

allotment ideas

For a long time allotment gardening was widely seen as the preserve of older men in flat caps (remember Arthur and his allotment in Eastenders? ), as a place to potter about and sit in their sheds.  However, as food prices continue to grow higher and higher, and more and more modern housing developments are created without any private gardens, more and more people are getting in to allotment gardening.

Allotment gardening is a great and cheap way to have access to your own plot of land for growing fruit and vegetables (approximately £50 a year for a standard sized plot); the allotment community is friendly and sociable and keen to share knowledge and swap seeds; and it’s a relaxing and fairly stress-free hobby (as long as slugs don’t attack!).

Now, it’s true that allotments aren’t exactly renowned for looking particularly pleasing on the eye, but whilst browsing the internet for allotment ideas I came across a few that really grabbed me:

Inspiring Allotment Ideas

The Traditional Allotment

This traditional style allotment, found on Fennel & Fern, looks beautiful and really productive:

beautiful allotment

It seems that with a bit of planning and forethought allotments can look good as well as being practical (although it does help if you have some stellar carpentry skills to create that shed!).

The Modern Allotment

Whilst browsing the internet, it also struck me that developers are cottoning on to the fact that people want access to garden space.  These modern allotments at Saxton in Leeds are a great example of developers incorporating allotments into modern flat developments.  Although the plots are small there is still plenty scope for growing a variety of different vegetables, and I have the say the multi-colour sheds are very aesthetically pleasing.  Who wouldn’t want to be out at their allotment on a gloriously sunny day?

modern allotment

Images from Urban Splash

I know they aren’t the biggest of plots, but it’s given me all sorts of allotment ideas – a brightly coloured shed and some raised beds for starters!

Want Your Own Allotment?

All fired up and wanting your very own allotment?  The best bet is to contact your local council, however the National Allotment Society may also be a useful port of call.

However, I’m not wanting to burst your bubble, but in case you weren’t aware, there is a terrible problem of supply and demand, in that there are often huge waiting lists for allotment spaces.  In some parts of Edinburgh alone there are 9 year waiting lists, and sadly, from what I am aware of, the Council is doing very little to help free up more land for allotments.  In many places up and down the country allotments have even been sold off to developers.

You might be wondering what you can do about this?  There is an online petition that you can sign that calls for the Government to introduce and implement a new allotment strategy to help improve the current provision and increase the number of allotments available to meet demand.  You can sign it here – it’s open until 18th January 2014 and needs at least 20,000 signatures so please spread the word.

I have heard of some areas of the country where there are allotments ready and waiting for occupiers, so it may be that you are one of the lucky few, but in any case, sign the petition for all of us less privileged!