The forecast is looking pretty grim for much of the UK over the next few day's at least, some parts have already been taking a pummelling. Heres a few of the questions we are getting asked at the moment and our answers, we hope this will help you help your garden birds through the worst of it!
How do the wild birds cope with extreme weather? Birds are tough and adaptable creatures and most have ways of coping, after the run of harsh winters, the surviving birds must be well adapted to the extreme weather events. Some shift their range to find more shelter and food, kingfishers for example will head to coastal areas to find open water and fieldfares and redwings will head to gardens as they are more sheltered than the wider countryside. The hardier species tough it out where they are, wildfowl often sit out bad weather on islands or areas of unfrozen water until things improve. Prolonged spells of frozen conditions can be very dangerous for wild birds as they cannot replenish lost energy as food is hard to come by and they are constantly having to burn energy just to keep warm. Over night many birds huddle together in tree roosts or nesting boxes, pied wagtails for example of choose street trees in urban areas where the air temperature is higher.
What is the best way to help garden birds? Providing supplementary food to help them through the hard times is something everyone can do. A mix of food in feeders, on trays and on the ground (in moderation) should give them the opportunity to get enough energy to keep them warm through the cold nights. Suet blocks, balls and pellets are popular as are sunflower hearts, grated chedar cheese and porridge oats are just a few of the popular items you can provide. Providing shelter and access to water are also key things you can do to help the birds taking shelter amongst human habitations.
Which species are most vulnerable? Specialist hunters are often among the worst affected, bitterns, egrets and kingfishers can have high mortality rates during hostile winter conditions. It is very difficult to help them but we tried providing fish on the ice which seemed to help in some cases. Icy conditions are also very hard on our smallest birds which lose heat fast and need to feed constantly to stand a chance of survival. Dartford warblers, wrens and goldcrests eat insects even through winter so they can be hit hard.
What are these unusual birds turning up in my garden since the snow arrived? It is likely that you will have some unusual visitors passing through your garden during frozen conditions, if you have a pond that doesn't freeze a kingfisher may turn up in a desperate attempt to find a meal. Farmland birds are often seen in gardens during snow, especially reed buntings and yellow hammers. Pied and grey wagtails often join the dunnocks and robins feeding in the snow and you may also attract blackcaps, redwing, fieldfare, waxwing and siskin to bird feeders and shrubs with fruit and berries. Please record these birds on Birdtrack.
Can I knit jumpers or blankets for the birds to help them through the cold? We have been asked this before, as sweet an idea as this is it's not really practical, better off putting up some nesting boxes, roosting pockets and planting some dense shrubs to provide a choice of roosting opportunities for birds in the garden.
I can't keep my bird bath or pond ice free, what do I do? If setting up a pump to keep the water moving or a solar sipper to warm the water are not options for you, the best thing to do is to float a ball in the water, this may stop it from freezing during the day but over night when the temperature drops it may still freeze. In the morning remove the ball to leave a hole which may allow birds enough room to drink.
What sort of shrubs should I plant to provide birds with a safe roost? A mix of shrubs is always a good idea to give benefits throughout the year but over winter birds need some shelter which is best provided by evergreens. Some ornamental conifers offer good cover as do privets, laurels and pyracantha. However if you want to keep things native holly and Ivy provide great cover and can be a saviour for many small birds. If your garden is suitable you could try to go for a wild look with some gorse and Juniper.
Do I need to put anything in my nesting boxes to keep birds warm? After giving nest boxes a clean in autumn there is no need to add anything or check the box again until the following autumn. During the autumn clean you can add a handful of hay or woodshaving but most birds will roost quite happily on the nestbox floor. The box and their feathers give them the protection they need.
Please let us know what you are doing to help your garden birds this winter, we look forward to hearing from you! Stay warm!
I have one of the tits that roosts in a nest box at night , thought something had happened to it recently when we couldnt see it on the camera then we saw movement near top inside when hubby looked it was sat on top of the camera inside must have been warmer up there . Glad I read about not putting anything in the box did think about some dried moss but dont want to frighten it away.It came last winter too nannyp
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