It's here! The time is upon us. You can now sign up here for Big Garden Birdwatch 2018. Whilst the event itself might be over a month away, this leaves plenty of time to start prepping. So get outside, clean up the bird table and fill up your feeders. Just make sure you follow our dos and don'ts for feeding garden birds:

DO feed your garden birds:

Mealworms - dried or alive, both are enjoyed by insect-eaters like robins, starlings, blackbirds and others.

Sunflower seeds – these are full of beneficial oil and protein. Sunflower hearts (seeds with the husks removed) are less messy and give quick access to the food for birds adapted to seed-eating like blue tits, siskins and house sparrows.

Peanuts - tits, finches and great spotted woodpeckers are just some of the birds that love peanuts. Peanuts are a bird superfood: full of energy. If you’re lucky you may even see nuthatches stealing them and burying these snacks in your flowerbed for later.

Bird seed mixtures - these are great for many different birds. Get a mix with small seeds for dunnocks, sparrows, finches and collared doves. Mixtures that use wheat, barley, beans, lentils or dried rice should be avoided. They only attract the bigger birds, like pigeons, which will scare off the smaller guys.

Fat – whether it be in balls, bars, blocks or nibbles. Building up fat reserves helps keep birds warm. Make your own: stir lard with seeds and nuts, pop it in a yoghurt pot and hang upside down from a tree or bird table.

Leftovers - Chopped apples and pears will feed blackbirds, song thrushes, and maybe redwings and fieldfares. Cooked potatoes and pastry, suet, chopped (unsalted) bacon and cheese are also bird-friendly foods. You can also use dried fruits like raisins, but don’t use these if you have cats and dogs who can fall ill if they eat them.

DON'T feed your garden birds:

Dessicated coconut – this swells up inside birds and makes them very unwell.

Cooking fat – cooked fat from Sunday roasts and Christmas dinners merges with meat juices during cooking. This combination can stick to bird’s feathers and stop them being waterproof.

Milk – bird’s guts aren’t designed to digest milk and can result in serious stomach upsets.

Cooked porridge oats – these stick around their bills, although uncooked oats are fine.

Dry biscuits – birds may choke on the hard lumps.

Salt – garden birds are practically unable to metabolise salt. It is toxic to them in high quantities

Bread - although it won’t do them any harm, bread acts as an empty filler for birds and doesn’t provide much in the way of nutrition so is best avoided.

Don’t forget to:

Put water out too. Float a ping pong ball on the water’s surface to stop it freezing.

Keep bird feeders clean. A weekly wash will help prevent the build-up of harmful bacteria.

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