Can I introduce Dr Tim Harrison at the British Trust for Ornithology with a topical guide to feeding birds in winter, on a shoestring.

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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.

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  • Comment number 20. Posted by Alison

    on 22 Jan 2013 18:57

    I have seen a male blackcap feeding on mixed bird food this weekend. Sudbury,Suffolk.

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  • Comment number 19. Posted by RFJA

    on 22 Jan 2013 13:12

    I remember my father back in the eighties being excited but seeing the first greenfinch to use a bird feeder hanging on upside down like the tit family. A couple of years ago a black bird learnt to do this on a feeder in our garden and this year I have seen Jackdaws and a magpie manage the same feat I have photographed the magpie. (is this evolution in progress? ) I have also photographed two tame robins I am regularly hand feeding (almost) and they are feeding together on the same bird table. . One day, I hope to emulate an old family friend the late George Temperly who used to feed two robins meal worms from his mouth. He wold have a robin perched on each outstretch hand. Moving one hand in turn closer each robin would feed and so long as he kept them at arms length all was well but they would not tollerate being brought nearer. We thought at the time he must know the exact line of their invisible territory. But they may have like mine been a pair. I just thought I should demonstrate that not all robins are agressive or territorial.

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  • Comment number 18. Posted by Sparrowfriend

    on 21 Jan 2013 16:25

    We've had a female brambling, male blackcap and a fieldfare in the garden today along with the usual visitors including several greenfinches.

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  • Comment number 17. Posted by Alan and Sue

    on 21 Jan 2013 14:45

    We feel very fortunate indeed to have a Brambling visiting our feeders on a regular basis; Chris mentioned that there were approx 1000 in the UK so not many to go around! It is a gorgeous, colourful bird and a delight to see every day. As if that was not good enough, for the past 2 days we have had a Corn Bunting in the garden so 2 rare visitors in 1 week; can life get any better?

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  • Comment number 16. Posted by redrob1

    on 20 Jan 2013 09:29

    For the past few days we've had a blackbird with a black beak,has anybody else come across this?

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  • Comment number 15. Posted by Gagajoo

    on 19 Jan 2013 10:36

    Hi, I believe I saw a Hobby on Baildon Moor in West Yorkshire recently - is this possible at this time of the year? If not, has anyone any ideas of what it could have been? I'm sure it was a Hobby!

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  • Comment number 14. Posted by Steve

    on 18 Jan 2013 17:24

    To Julie on the 4th floor - well done for attempting to feed the birds from such a lofty perch! (I wonder where the highest successful feeding station is.) The obvious answer to your problem would surely be to get a caged feeder, now widely available for most types of food. Small birds generally seem happy feeding inside the bars.

    A couple of relatively inexpensive foods I've found going down well this winter have been jumbo packs of basic porridge oats and finely ground up basic quality digestive biscuits. The tits have really been keen on the biscuits (scattered on the bird table), including a regular posse of long-tailed tits. I ground feed with the porridge and most ground-feeders go for it. Both types of food can readily be scattered finely so even if there are large birds about they can't grab the lot in one go.

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  • Comment number 13. Posted by Sue Taylor

    on 17 Jan 2013 19:18

    We use suet mealworm blocks just outside the back door and have a group of long tailed tits which visit every other day to feed. I was intrigued at your information that they all huddle up together on a branch and the last to land elbows (or wings) his way into the middle to get warm. We have lots of bird boxes in our wildlife garden, so do these birds use the boxes all year round to keep warm instead of the branches? We are just South of Edinburgh so maybe the team would like to drop by for a spot of tea on their way home? We have all native animals in the garden except hedgehogs, martens and red squirrels as we live on the edge of a country park. They all come into the garden to feed. How can I attract more (any) hedgehogs into the garden, the snails and slugs are horrendous!

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  • Comment number 12. Posted by Saltysam

    on 17 Jan 2013 14:33

    I am a bit concerned about the bird seed mix I get from a well known supermarket. We get most of the usual bird suspects but they won't eat the bulk of the seed, which I'm guessing is grass? They sort though to find what they want and the rest goes on the ground, attracting (unwelcome) pigeons. The birds also seem to have phases of what they will eat, right now it's the nut feeders getting attention and, by and large, the fat balls and seed feeders are hardly being touched. We clean the feeders every few days and top them up........do we just have fussy birds? Oh, and am I wasting money on the well known bird seed supplier?? Thanks for any pointers.

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  • Comment number 11. Posted by northernjock

    on 17 Jan 2013 12:32

    Oh dear, still can't do it can you

    Producers; Presenters (apart from Euan that is).

    Here is your challenge for this evenings programme.
    Try saying the following
    1. Van GOGH with the emphasis on the german ich sound, ( see your own website for guidance http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/magazinemonitor/2010/01/how_to_say_van_gogh.shtml
    2. Bach as in the composer with emphasis on 'ch' sound again
    3. or like the j in Rioja, the Spanish wine.

    Now try saying LOCH properly please !

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