Most birds find it a little trickier to grab a tasty morsel between late autumn and spring. This is when natural food supplies are usually at their lowest. Seeds are scarce, insects have scurried underground or beneath warm log piles and not everyone loves a juicy winter berry. If you’ve got a bird table or a flat surface away from pesky predators, then now is the time when garden birds will reap the most benefit from your offerings.
Robins are natural ground feeders, so a bird table or feeder tray is ideal. Bird tables are also preferred by blackbirds, dunnocks (hedge sparrows) and thrushes, so expect an array of visitors if you have one. Ideally, only put out enough food for one day so as not to entice vermin. Vermin are also attracted to human scraps, so avoid using leftovers from your Sunday lunch. A selection of bird seed, sunflower hearts and mealworms is a basic menu for a bird café. My garden birds are also partial to a selection of fresh fruit. To help birds survive over winter, try making a birdy cake using a mixture of seeds, raisins and natural nuts (not the salty kind please) and pop this on the table once cooled. Salty foods are not good for birds as they can cause dehydration, so avoid crisps and salted chips etc.
If you’ve not tried a bird table or feeder tray before, you may have to wait a little while for news to get around that the café is open for business. The ideal location is away from fences or overhanging trees which might be a great look out post for the neighbourhood cats, not so great for garden birds. If you have a small bush nearby, birds can slip in and out of cover in between feeds. Don’t be afraid to try a few different sites and in fact, it’s a good idea to move the bird table from time to time to prevent bird droppings accumulating underneath.
Bird tables come in all shapes and sizes, from a simple tray to very ornate structures. Covered tables are best as the roof will help keep the food dry and can deter larger visitors, such as collared doves and pigeons from snaffling all the goodies. But if you’re going open plan, keep any eye on any foods that have become soggy from rain or snow as this could encourage mould to accumulate.
One last word about bird tables – surfaces can be easily contaminated by bacteria building up on old food, so it’s important to clean your table regularly. A quick brush off with an old broom head will do and a swish of hot soapy water works wonders.
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