Winter Bird Feeding

The snow has finally arrived here in Scotland and our thoughts turn to the welfare of the birds that decided not to fly south. Feeding birds in winter is both rewarding and enjoyable.

In winter the temperatures drop and the natural food supply dries up. You can now expect to see more of your garden birds at a well stocked table. As well as food, they need fresh, unfrozen water for drinking and bathing.  They need fatty foods such as fat balls as well as seeds. Also why not leave some hedges and ivy for shelter.  Plant berry bearing trees such as hawthorne and rowan and you may be lucky enough to see waxwings and other winter migrants.

Blue tit

To attract the greatest number of species in the winter, it is important to have a number of different bird feeders available. The feeders you use during the winter should have several characteristics in common.

Your bird table should be covered so seed does not get buried during snowfalls or blown away in storms. The cover should extend several inches over the edge of the table to ensure protection from all but the most serious storms.

Ideally, winter bird feeders should be placed in sheltered locations out of the wind. Placing feeders closer to the house will be effective and will help keep the birds visible for indoor birdwatching.

Most birds that visit gardens in snowy weather feed on seeds, since insects and fruit are harder to find naturally during the winter. The best foods to offer birds in colder weather have a high fat or oil content that will provide abundant energy for winter survival. Nutritious winter foods for birds include:

Sunflower seed
Peanuts
Thistle seed
Peanut butter
White millet seed
When choosing birdseed and other foods for winter feeding, take into consideration which bird species are present in the winter and what foods they prefer to avoid excess wasted seed.

Meal worms are also appreciated by most garden birds, especially robins and blackbirds.  Fat balls  are a great energy boost and tend to be made of lard/suet, nuts, cereals and sunflower seeds, so are densely packed with essential energy and fats for birds.  Tits love fat balls as do  sparrows, starlings, blackbirds and black caps.

Often neglected, is household food waste, which can often be a great wildlife boost.  Soft fruits,  uncooked porridge oats, 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.  Finely chopped unsalted bacon, and fats from other unsalted meats are all fine.  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. Never offer food which is moldy or rancid. Remember that food scraps should always be placed on a bird-table as sprinkling on the ground can attract rats

Final bit of advice.  Once you start feeding birds, please continue to feed them throughout the winter, as they will come to rely on your offerings.

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