…Tuppence a bag?! Maybe it can be. Yesterday I found whats called a ‘Bird Feeding Station’ for the bargain price of £40 which includes food and feeders for a variety of british garden bird species. The cold weather is coming in thick and fast and night-time temperatures are rarely hitting double figures now. This time last year the first heavy snow had fallen, blanketing the south-east in at least 6 or 7 inches. This year has been milder so far but our little feathered friends will soon be running low on their natural food stuffs and be requiring supplementary food and water from us humans.
In my opinion, the very least everyone should do is provide clean water for the birds to bathe in and drink. A wide shallow dish or tray placed on the ground is probably ample providing its safe for the birds to use away from predators. Or of course you could invest in a fancy bird bath, my ultra mod feeding station comes complete with a water bath attachment but we also have a small shallow pond which the birds use.
If you don’t want to spend much money at all (after all I only bought the feeding station because it was severely reduced and will last years!) there are a number of cheap ways you can help feed bird kind over the winter months. A bag of peanuts is relatively cheap in most food and pet stores (just make sure they are for birds and not a bag of KP Dry Roasted!). Birds will also eat raisins and other dried fruit. These can be pre soaked in water over night which means they also double up as a secondary water source. If you can still get them, buy a coconut from your local supermarket (never more than £1). Cut it in half and hang the halves upright so the white flesh faces outwards. coconut again provides water but are also high in essential fatty acids which provide sub-dermal insulation, energy and oils required for water proofing feathers etc.
If you have any left over suet in your pantry this also provides the necessary energy for birds, melted suet mixed with breadcrumbs and seeds, nuts and dried berries can be shaped into balls or blocks and hung up for birds to peck at, failing that pack it into a coconut half and hang this up.
There are a whole myriad of different types of bird feeders out there each one for a specific type of food and therefore a specific species of bird. Niger seed feeders for finches and so on are all well and good however you wont go wrong with a simple peanut feeder as most birds will happily use them. However, do remember some birds can’t feed whilst hanging. Robins especially can only feed off the ground so make sure you provide a little ground food on the floor or on a bird table. Select a spot that has good line of sight and peanuts cracked underfoot and a selection of dried berries and raw suet will keep Robin happy. There is however the risk of attracting rats and mice. Corvids (Crows, Magpies etc) will welcome a little meat every now and again, when im cooking up a big Spag Bol or shepherds Pie I will put a small amount of ground beef or lamb aside for them, although I tend to wait until it’s really cold to delay festering. You can also buy mealworms now in pet stores, crows and robins etc a like will pick on these little morsels and they are a great source of protein.
If you do decide to invest in feeders of some kind make sure food is replaced if it becomes damp and mouldy. Birds probably wont go near it and if they do you runt he risk of spreading infections and disease so keep your feeders spotless. Also, move your feeders around the garden to prevent build up of bird poo and bacteria. If you notice the area is becoming heavily soiled, move your feeder a few feet away into another part of the garden.
It takes time for birds to discover and get used to new feeding spots so be patient… the sooner you get your feeders and water out the sooner the birds will get used to the location. Remember birds are the messengers of the Gods…treat them with kindness this winter and who knows what they will bring you in return?!
For more information visit the RSPB guide to feeding birds (they also have an online shop selling a huge selection of feeders etc)#
I recently learned how to make a decent coconut bird feeders which the birds in my locality seem to love. Here’s how you can provide a very simple meal for the wild birds in your area which also recylcles left overs and scraps!
Ideally you will need a mould, I use a coconut cut in half but its not essential. If you use a cocnut half for example scrape out the flesh, drill a whole and tie string through it which will be used to hang your feeder.
Then fill the mould with a mixture of bird freindly scraps as well as bird seed, mealworms and so on. You can use the coconut you scraped out earlier (grate it first) as well as breadcrumbs, nuts, seeds, ground nuts, dried fruit etc. Once full, measure how much dry mix you have and measure out half of that quantity of either veg or beef suet or lard. (i.e. for one cup dry mix you need 1/2 cup fat). It must be a fat which is safe and solid at room temperature.
Melt the fat in a heat proof bown over a pan of boiling water, when its liquid mix in your dry ingredients until well combined. Pack into your moulds and allow to set. Its that simple and will make the birds very happy…in fact we have a local flock of Starlings which regularly fight over these!!
If you dont have a mould you can allow the mix to cool a little (the fat gets very hot even when melted on a double boiler) and shape into balls which you can thread a darning needle attached to some strong wool through to create a hanging loop.