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SWT: Helping birds to survive the worst of the winter weather

Fieldfare and blackbird in snow, by Sarah Colnet ANL-151201-160459001
Fieldfare and blackbird in snow, by Sarah Colnet ANL-151201-160459001

As our newly installed central heating starts to struggle against the seeping bitter cold that winter brings, I like to spare a thought (and some food) for our feathered friends.

Every day is a fight for survival for our garden birds, especially during the cold winter months; insects are scarce, crops have been harvested, grass seeds have sown and their leafy canopy of cover has become a sodden mat upon the floor.

When I’m feeding the birds in our garden I take into account their differing feeding habits; blackbirds, robins and chaffinches will flock to my bird table or to any food sprinkled upon the floor, whereas blue tits and great tits are more likely to visit the feeders.

I make sure our feeders are situated near some green cover like an evergreen shrub or tree. This makes the birds feel more secure and ensures I have more confident visitors. Sunflower hearts are a fantastic source of energy and from my experience, are a firm favourite. I think that perhaps a finch mix with some peanuts and soft-bill (de-husked) mix would be a good combination too.

Once the hedgerows and fruit trees have been stripped of their jewelled crops, I start to see some rarer visitors coming in; fieldfare for example, are definitely very grateful for an apple or two, as are the blackbirds and perhaps even a hungry green woodpecker.

I have to remind myself that all this feeding will increase the need to keep the feeding station clean! It’s a good idea to rotate the feeders when cleaning to ensure a constant food supply and to disinfect the table and floor thoroughly to reduce the spread of disease. I also like to move the feeding station from time to time as this discourages bacteria. One of the most important things on my ‘winter garden birds’ checklist is to provide water on a daily basis as once the hard frosts arrive, our bird bath rarely manages to defrost itself before nightfall.

When I’m done with filling the feeders, the best bit is going inside, making a cup of tea and some buttery toast and watching – together with my little boy Henry – our grateful feathered friends flutter in for breakfast! It’s good to know we are making a big difference to their chance of survival this winter.

Sarah Colnet is a Suffolk Wildlife Trust volunteer conservation adviser