1. Beware of the big freeze
Bird baths and other water sources are likely to freeze over as temperatures plummet, which means many birds can perish due to dehydration. Therefore, putting out fresh water every day can be a real lifesaver.
You can help stop water freezing by lining your bird bath with something black, like a black liner, or adding some black rocks to the bottom of the bowl. These will retain more heat and stop it freezing as easily.
There are also solutions you can add to bird baths to stop the water freezing in cold temperatures- make sure that anything you’re adding to water for birds is certified as non-toxic for birds and wildlife.
2. Use foods high in fat
A high-protein diet containing plenty of calories can be vital for some birds to make it through the colder months. Foods high in fat or oil content provide enough fuel to see them through the winter. Nutritious winter foods such as sunflower seeds and super suet balls are ideal – and they may help you attract species such as woodpeckers, tits, and Starlings.
3. Don’t neglect live food
‘Live food such as insects, worms, and larvae decrease in numbers when frost and snow his the ground, as they move lower into the soil to hibernate. This means their is a scarcity for birds, which need them for fat, protein, and- perhaps most importantly – hydration.
Including a supply of live mealworms in your garden bird food selection will be of huge benefit to wild birds, regardless of the season, but especially during the breeding season.
4. Remember ground-feeding birds
When the ground is covered with snow, ground-feeding birds like Blackbirds, Robins, and Song Thrushes are at a loss. Try using a ground-feeding mix that includes high-energy foods, such as sultanas, rolled oats, and sunflower heart chips. These are perfect for soft-billed ground-feeding birds, which can struggle to chip into whole seeds like nyjer seeds or whole sunflower seeds.
5. A little goes a long way
Although it is always tempting to put out a lot of food for the birds – especially during cold periods- too much food leads to the risk of it going mouldy or being contaminated. This can lead to salmonella poisoning and even increase the risks of bird flu transmission.
Your best bet is to provide small amounts of bird food and change it regularly. Make sure, when you do this, you’re cleaning up fallen seed husks and other pieces of food from the ground and below feeders, as this can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
6. Safeguard the bird food
Food can be scarce for many animals over the winter, so it is a good idea to safeguard the food you are providing for the birds. Specialised feeders will protect against large birds or squirrels stealing the food. Also, garden birds are likely to fear attacks from predators so it is advisable to place feeders close to trees and thick shrubs, allowing the birds to escape quickly if threatened. This approach gives smaller birds the security they need to return to your garden.
7. Keep it clean
Your bird feeders require cleaning and sterilising on a regular basis. Keeping mould and mildew to a minimum means diseases are less likely to thrive – and this means a reduced risk to the health of the birds. Remove old seeds from your feeder and, if possible, provide more than one feeder to give the birds a bit of variety and plenty of space. Additionally, if you have a birdbath, it is advisable to empty it every day, wipe it clean and refill it with fresh water. You can use either hot soapy water or bleach diluted with water (make sure this no more than 1 part bleach to 9 parts water). Whenever you clean a bird bath, bird feeder, or bird accessory, make sure you wash it with plain water after it has been sterilsed, to make sure there are no harmful chemicals left.
Nicolas Watts, conservationist, and owner of Vine House Farm, the self-sustainable Lincolnshire-based farm and bird care supplier