During these tough winters the natural food sources must be ensured along with easy availability of water in your garden so that the birds could survive healthily. When the snow and ice are there, birds will need all the help they can get to survive the winter.
However, the range of bird seeds, fat-balls and other so-called bird-friendly items can leave gardeners baffled as to what’s best for our strayfeathered friends.
Calorie-rich food such as mixed seed, nyjer seed, fat-balls, suet sprinkles, sunflower seed and good quality peanuts, as well as kitchen scraps such as mild grated cheese, rice and porridge oats.
There are different mixes for feeders and for bird tables and ground feeding.The better mixtures contain plenty of flaked maize, sunflower seeds and peanut granules.
Avoid seed mixtures that have split peas, beans, dried rice or lentils as again only the large species can eat them dry. These are added to cheaper mixes to bulk them up.
Any mixture with green or pink lumps should also be avoided as these are dog biscuit, which can only be eaten when soaked.
Don’t feed the birds cooked fat from roasting tins and dishes, because the it may have blended with meat juices which leaves a mixture prone to smearing, which is not good for the birds’ feathers, and is a breeding ground for bacteria.
Polyunsaturated margarines and vegetable oils should also be avoided as birds need high levels of saturated fat to retain the energy to keep warm, and soft fats can be smeared on to feathers, destroying the waterproofing qualities.
Lard and beef suet are fine as they re-solidify after warming and are not as prone to bacteria breeding because they are pure fat.
Never give milk to the birds because it can result in serious stomach upsets or even death. They can, however, digest mild grated cheese.
Be cautious if you intend to give the birds coconut, only give them the fresh stuff in the shell, rinsing out any sweet coconut water before hanging it out, to stop black mildew emerging. Do not use desiccated coconut as it can swell inside the bird, with fatal consequences.
Cooked rice without added salt can be beneficial to birds during extreme winters. Even uncooked porridge oats are fine for many bird species.
You can also put out little quantities of dry breakfast cereal. A continuous supply of water is also essential for bathing and preening. During the tough winters and particularly when it often freezes out the birds become more dependent on water provided in gardens, since many natural sources are frozen over.
In order to ensure fresh water availability to the birds and keep it away from freezing it is better to keep the water in your garden to pop in a light ball that will be moved by even a gentle breeze – a ping-pong ball is ideal.Alternatively, pour on hot water to melt the ice to make sure the birds can get to it.