Last modified: 15 November 2012
Image: Peter M Beesley
The summer may have passed and there’s a nip in the air but the RSPB is calling on the people of Surrey to venture outside and help their garden wildlife through the cold winter months.
Winter can be a tough time for our wildlife. Natural food sources start to dwindle in the cold weather as there is more competition from birds and other wildlife, plants may become covered with snow, berry crops come to an end and lakes, rivers and ponds often freeze over.
In harsh winters, birds like blackbirds, song thrushes, and even exotic waxwings – seasonal visitors from Scandinavia – come to our gardens in a search for food.
And feeding birds in the garden is a popular activity – many of us are already feeding our feathered friends at least once a week – so now is a good time to ‘Step Up for Nature’ and start doing our bit to help them survive the cold damp months.
“Feeding in winter can be a life-saver for a wide range of species and will help birds to be in good health when the breeding season arrives next spring”, says Samantha Stokes of the RSPB in the South East.
“Birds feast on natural foods such as berries, fallen fruits and insects during autumn. However, Supplies of these are not limitless. Birds are increasingly reliant on us to provide additional food to get them through the cold winter nights.
“Garden favourites such as robins, blackbirds and finches have come to rely on feeders and tables as fast and easy food. Birds use most of their energy just surviving the cold nights. Our support is essential in making sure they stay alive.”
So if you feel like having some friends round this winter, the RSPB have five top tips for making sure you are the ‘host with the most’ for your feathered visitors.
Be creative in the kitchen. Different birds have different tastes and you are likely to attract far more species if you go for variety. More unusual items to try include pastry, cooked rice, mild grated cheese and cooked potatoes. Birds are polite guests – they won’t moan over a bit of mould on their bread! But avoid any salted foods, and buy toxin-free peanuts from reputable dealers.
Something to drink? Birds need water to drink and bathe in all year. Especially in hard frosts, open water can be hard to find. Change the water regularly and never add salt.
Go for the healthy option. Bird tables and feeders should be cleaned weekly with very dilute disinfectant to reduce the risk of disease.
Choosing your venue. Don’t put food on the ground if your garden is used by cats. And locate your table and feeders near to cover to give songbirds an escape route from predators.
A bed for the night. Now is the time of year to put up nestboxes, not only to give birds a place to nest in the spring but many birds use nestboxes to roost in overnight during cold winter nights.
Follow these tips and you’ll guarantee yourself a great party!
Putting out seed, peanuts or kitchen scraps will help your birds on a day-to-day basis, but now is also a great time to think longer term about turning your garden into a haven for wildlife. A few simple steps taken now will help birds, insects, hedgehogs and bats in the coming spring.
Plant deciduous trees, native shrubs and climbers like honeysuckle, rose and ivy to provide food and shelter. Leave patches of long grass to provide a home for insects, or build a log pile, they are perfect for insects, fungi mosses & lichens.
Sow nectar and seed-rich flowers such as alyssum, sunflower and knapweed to encourage insects for birds to feed on.
As well as nestboxes for birds, think about providing winter hibernation places for hedgehogs or installing a roosting box for bats.
Create a water feature such as a pond or bog garden as much wildlife relies on a regular supply of freshwater.
To learn more about how to provide food, shelter and habitat for wildlife in urban spaces, visit the RSPB's Homes for Wildlife project webpage at www.rspb.org.uk/hfw.
Gardening for wildlife is just one of a variety of ways people can do their bit to ‘Step Up for Nature’ and help save species in trouble.
The RSPB’s ‘Stepping Up for Nature’ movement encourages everybody to take steps, no matter how big or small, in order to help protect nature and ensure the Government meets its target to halt the decline in biodiversity by 2020. For more information and ideas on what you can do visit the campaign website www.rspb.org.uk/steppingup