We should all be busy filling our feeders regularly now, but this year has been unusual and particularly mild for a long time, resulting in plenty of natural food for birds and other animals to feed on. Their instinct is to use this natural food source over the supplementary food we put out for them. Some of you may have found that your feeders are already being regularly used and others are apparently being shunned or used infrequently by the odd passing bird, there is no right or wrong, it just depends on what the birds need in your area. If you are finding that the birds are not using your feeders much and the food is going stale, discard the old food and give your feeders a good clean, but when you top them up only half fill them (this will save you money and the food won’t go to waste). This way there is always some food for the odd bird that uses your feeder. When the weather changes there will be food for when larger numbers of birds come into your garden. You’ll soon be able to see when the food is being eaten, and then you can go back to filling up your feeders again. Once the natural food starts to run out you should start to see more birds coming onto your feeders.
During cold weather, birds can lose up to 40% of their weight overnight, just trying to keep warm. A bird’s body clock works on daylight hours, so in the winter months we are given great opportunities to view the birds feeding at first light, which can become a bit of a feeding frenzy. If you watch your garden birds regularly you’ll notice that they’ll come down to feed again in the late afternoon, before they go and find somewhere to roost overnight. Keep your nestboxes up all year round, as they can give valuable roosting sites for smaller birds and allow them to get out of the worst of the weather, and it may encourage them to nest in the box in the spring.
Robin tucking into some Peck n Mix bird food - Nigel Blake (rspb-images.com)
What to feed?
Food that’s high in energy is fantastic for the birds in the winter months; peanuts, any of the fat or suet based foods (you can put these in hanging feeders but also on the ground), seed mixes that contain sunflower seeds or hearts, mealworms and fruit will all go down well. If you can, try to feed at the same time every day, and keep your feeders topped up when you have lots of birds coming onto them.
You can make up your own fat ball and cake mix using lard and suet (you can use vegetarian suet for this mix too). Have the lard and suet at room temperature in a mixing bowl, add in things like porridge oats (uncooked), mild grated cheese, peanuts, sultanas, raisins and bird seed. Mix it all together and create fat balls or press the mixture into old yogurt pots (so you can hang them up, you can attach string to the pot before you add the mixture), or use shallow dishes to create bird cake. Put them in the fridge to set, and when they are solid place them outside. Remember not to feed turkey fat to feed your birds as it’s too soft and can get into their feathers, which can cause them problems.
If you don’t want to do the ‘hands on’ suet cake mix, you can buy a variety of suet based food and feeders for your garden birds from our web site or shops on our reserves. Don’t forget your nestboxes, and fresh water for all the wildlife in your garden.
Hope you all have a Merry Christmas!
Friday October 3rd
With some of our team out training our colleagues in the world of wildlife enquiries Claire and I decided that we would use our time to brush up on our wildlife skill set. Having taken delivery of a fresh batch of owl pellets we set about dissecting them on Friday...at lunch time.
First we selected a pellet that we felt would have a good haul of bones and hopefully an intact skull having never actually dissected owl pellets before we chose a rather large one and set it to soak in water with some alcohol disinfectant. The pellet was produced by a barn owl. They are quite large and characteristically black in appearance often with a varnish like gloss when fresh.
They are also the best material for pellet studies as many are produced at the same site and the bones they produce are remarkably intact.
Having bought in my dissection kit and put on gloves that Claire had provided we set about pulling the soaked pellet apart. It was easy enough and the fur parted like meat that had been cooking for hours. Although the large white grub of a clothes moth was enough to put us of eating for the rest of the day.
We removed 3 skulls from one pellet as well as scapulars, jaw bones, ear capsules, what felt like thousands of rib bones and vertebrae.
Each dish was a soup of fur and bones, the fur lead us to expect mammal remains and we were right as we pulled the remains of three (Blind, after being eaten and regurgitated) mice.
On the dark blue card we arranged the bones and examined them under the lamp placing them into position and identifying them with the key. Feeling like we were in Wildlife silent witness or CSI RSPB we thoroughly enjoyed our day brushing up on our wildlife skills and I would encourage anyone to have a go as well.