When the weather turns really cold, the birds undoubtedly require our help. Winter is tough enough for garden birds without sub-zero temperatures; however, when the ground freezes and temperatures hit the minuses it can prove fatal for garden birds and wildlife.
What can be done?
If you can safely get to your bird feeding station, please try to continue to put food out. Try to scrape clear a few areas to help birds get to ‘natural’ food as well. Remember to keep these patches clear if fresh snow falls.
It is during these prolonged periods of cold weather that high-energy bird foods are really appreciated; fat products like fat balls, suet pellets and suet blocks deliver super-high energy in seconds and offer calories equivalent to a good chocolate bar. Sunflower Hearts represent fast food, in that birds can fly quickly away with a single seed that’s bursting with energy and eat it in safety, out of sight of predators (who are also looking for an easy meal!).
High-energy seed mixes, like High-Energy Extra, are popular with finches and tits and can be fed from a bird feeder, bird table and from that clear, snow-free patch you will have created in the garden. Niger seeds are particularly beloved of Siskins, a perky little finch whose yellow and black stripes add a cheery glow to the gloomiest of winter days.
Goldfinch and Siskin on Niger seed feeder
If there’s one consolation of wintry weather, it’s that the trees are leafless which makes the wild birds easier to spot as they hop from branch to branch. Hopping within the close quarters of branches may well do two things: save energy and offer, once again, protection from predators. As the sun drops, it becomes harder to distinguish each species by its colours as they take on a more silhouetted appearance, which takes bird spotting to a completely different level.
Keep a watchful eye on your garden when the temperatures drop rapidly as that’s the time to spot the most colourful and unusual visitors. Wild birds have journeyed through the moulting process and they’ll be looking their very best in early January, particularly if there’s snow on the ground. Some birds will moult into their breeding plumage quite early in the year so there’s plenty to watch out for. If you’re so inclined, this might be a good time to put that new digital camera to the test and see if you can capture the wintry wonderland that is ‘your garden.’ If you do, please e-mail a picture or two to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll share your hard work with the bird feeding community.
Even the harshest of winters present moments of tranquillity - sunny days for moments of reflection. These are welcome to all of us, and make no mistake that the birds will sound-off their jubilance with a jamboree of song.
Whilst you’re relaxing, watch out for the ‘garden rarities’ – Reed Buntings, Great Spotted Woodpeckers looking to bid adieu to the forest and perfectly prepared to hammer their way through a peanut feeder. There will no doubt be pictures of Waxwings (from Scandinavia) hanging out as a group on red berries (often in Supermarket car parks) and you’ll pray as we all do that they’ll spot that solitary cotoneaster in the corner of your garden which – who knows – they just might...
Great Spotted Woodpecker on Peanut feeder
It’s perhaps a little too early to mention snow but, if that’s whetted your appetite to start planning for the colder weather, here’s a good place to get started: