Become a wildlife guardian this winter

Guide
Nuthatch in snow

Frosts are making pavements and driveways glitter and shoppers’ colourful scarfs and bobble hats dot the streets – winter is here. The colder nights and bitter winds mean garden birds will struggle for food and shelter. But your outdoor space can become a haven and help our garden birds survive the winter.

Nuthatch in snow

The Essentials

Nature looks striking this time of year as frosts or even snow traces leaves and spider webs like a coat of icing sugar and the low morning sun frames leaf-less trees, turning them into ethereal silhouettes. But as we start curling up inside with steaming mugs of hot chocolate, in winter the countryside is bare of the food sources birds rely upon. This happens just as birds need more energy to stay warm and have less daylight time to find food.

You can become a steward of your garden this winter and help protect your feathered guests. The key things birds will need to make it through to spring are food, water and shelter.

RSPB wildlife advisor Charlotte Ambrose said: “Up until now birds have been able to feed on insects and seeds, but the cold weather means they may move into our gardens to find refuge. You can give them a helping hand, as well as being rewarded by great views of wildlife in your garden or outside space.”

The key things birds will need to make it through to spring are food, water and shelter.

Here are our guidelines:

Take it easy- kitchen scraps like mild grated cheese, bruised fruit (not mouldy), cooked rice, unsalted bits of hard fat, roast potatoes and dry porridge go down a treat with garden birds. You can make excellent full-fat winter food by making your own bird cakes or fat balls. The RSPB also suggests calorie-rich foods like mixed seed, sunflower seed, nyjer seed and good quality peanuts.

No thank you! There are some foods you should avoid as they are dangerous for birds. Cooking fat from the roast mixes with meat juices during cooking to make a running, greasy mixture. This sticks to feathers and stops them from being waterproof. Other foods to avoid are dried coconut, cooked porridge oats, milk and mouldy or salted food.

Kitchen scraps like mild grated cheese, bruised fruit, cooked rice, unsalted bits of hard fat, roast potatoes and dry porridge go down a treat.

Keep it fresh – Another essential is fresh water for drinking and bathing. Finding sources of water can be hard with freezing temperatures, but a simple trick will help keep a patch of water ice-free. Float a small ball, such as a ping-pong ball, on the surface of the water and even a light breeze will stop it from freezing over.

Regularly cleaning bird baths, bird feeders and anything else your garden birds come into contact with is also essential for keeping birds healthy and disease free!

Plan your planting – Providing shelter from the harsh weather is extremely important. Plant dense hedges such as privet or hawthorn, or let ivy or holly grow and you’ll be creating a great place to roost in and shelter from the elements.

Plant dense hedges and you’ll be creating a great place to roost in and shelter from the elements.

Warm and cozy – Nestboxes are not just used over the summer egg-laying season. Many birds will use them on a cold winter’s night. These boxes are frequently communal with many residents packing in together for extra warmth. The record number of birds found in one box is 63 wrens!

Ensuring your garden is filled with food now will improve your chances of having a successful Big Garden Birdwatch. The RSPB’s annual event runs from January 28-30. All you need to do is spend one hour at any time over that weekend noting the number of birds landing in your garden or nearby park or green space.