Can I introduce Dr Tim Harrison at the British Trust for Ornithology with a topical guide to feeding birds in winter, on a shoestring.
Feeding birds during winter can give them a real helping hand, improving their prospects of surviving into the breeding season. However, feeding can be an expensive business and economic times are tough. So, what can you do?
• Use your bird food wisely – make sure that you don’t put out too much food as this could go soggy and mouldy. Provide enough for a day or so, then top it up again.
• Protect your food – larger bird and squirrels can demolish a lot of food, so you can try excluding these with feeder cages.
• Make your own fat cake – it’s pretty simple to make a suet-based fat-cake (always use a hard fat like suet, as soft fats can coat a bird’s feathers). Mix in some seeds and mealworms to make it extra nutritious.
• Grow your own – you can even start up your own Mealworm colony if you want to save some pennies! Grow Your Own mealworms.
• Use (some) kitchen scraps – a few decades ago, feeding birds was based on the provision of kitchen scraps and there are plenty of tit bits that birds will enjoy. A few bread or cake crumbs will be fine, and apples or pears past their best will be taken. However, avoid meats (could attract vermin), greasy foods (might coat feathers), salty foods (could dehydrate or be toxic) and dried fruits/coconut/rice/pasta.
• Avoid false economies – it might seem sensible to opt for a budget seed mix, but often this contains a lot of ‘filler’, such as corn, which is OK for some birds (such as Woodpigeons and House Sparrows) but not much else. Save money on other things. Quality seeds, such as sunflower hearts and nyjer seeds, are fantastic for attracting and supporting lots of different bird species. Such foods seem to be particularly important this winter with natural seed and nut crops appearing to be down.