For some people winter is a cosy time they look forward too, for others it’s wet dark and miserable; no matter what we think about it winter is coming and it is a tough time for most wild animals. Various species like hedgehogs choose to ignore it completely and hibernate but for our bird population it is a time where food is scarce, and times are tough. So, what can we do to help?
Sadly, it is a fact that British bird numbers are in decline. It is a good thing to note that numbers aren’t dropping any faster or slower over the last few years but they are falling and that’s not good. There are a lot of reasons for this and some we don’t fully understand. From hedge row destruction to farming practices, from domestic cats to general habitat loss and climate change. However, we can do our bit to support them, so all is not lost.
Feed the Birds
As has already been stated, winter is not a time for abundant food. While some birds do feed on various winter berries generally pickings are slim. So, putting out a bird feeder is a really good idea. Keep it topped up and even opt for a few different feeders around the garden to make sure multiple types of birds are getting food. You will be amazed what kinds of feather friends you get to visit. Bird feeders are great for kids too, peaking out the window and spotting a variety of birds is fun for everyone. You may also find you get visitors from overseas too as migrant populations move through the UK seeking warmer weather. It may feel cold to use but it’s warm compared to some of the places they come from.
Doing it Right
There is a right and a wrong way to use bird feeders though. One big issues is rats! As the birds feed they leave quite a mess and this attracts rats. Mark Stamford of Empire Pest Control in London says “rats will find the food and start visiting more often, as they breed your garden will become a prime foraging site” he also suggested that rats will start exploring around the feeder for more food and may venture into sheds and even homes to search of more food. Please don’t be put off by this, but make sure you do it right. Get rat proof feeders, place them away from branches rats can climb along too. Also, clean up under the feeders daily so you don’t get a build up of waste food the rates will eat. Also, if you start seeing rats…call the experts!
A Place to Call Home
As well as feeding birds it is worth thinking about nest boxes. While birds don’t breed in winter they can start looking for nest sites so it is well worth getting nest boxes up now! There is lots to think about when it comes to nest boxes including how high they are places, what way they face and the size of the box. South facing is not a good idea as they get too hot, keeping them high enough and out the way of rats and cats is critical among many other things. Do it right and you can actively help build our bird populations, do it wrong and at best you will have an empty box and at worse and easy meal for a cat or a dangerous place for birds to stay.
Birds and Kids
As mentioned before, having birds in the garden is great for kids. We may not have lots of large exciting animals in the UK but we do have some amazing birds. Engaging our kids in wildlife spotting and understanding the environment around them is really important and bird feeders and next boxes are a great way to do this at very little cost. Why not establish a bird log next to the window where kids can note down and draw what they see. Include chats about where birds have travelled from and you have some geography and climate lessons in there too!