Don’t forget our feathered friends this winter

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Don’t forget our feathered friends this winter
As we gear up for another winter, now is a great time to start thinking about how we can all help birds to survive the winter. Frost, snow and ice can make finding food very challenging for birds, but putting out food is something we can all do.

Whether you fill a bird-feeder with nuts or prepared bird food, or prefer to make your own bird food, your offering can mean the difference between life and death for birds at this time of year.

However, throwing out whatever scraps you may have to hand onto your lawn isn’t always the best way to help. For example, birds cannot digest milk and cooked porridge oats can stick to their beaks. So to make sure you are doing your very best for your garden friends this winter, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Garden BirdWatch has issued guidelines on how householders can help.

1. Recommended foods:

Oil-rich seeds, such as sunflower hearts and nyjer

Ground-up peanuts

Finely grated cheese, beef or vegetable suet

Chunks of windfall (especially) or fresh fruit

Dried fruit (that has been soaked first) – note, can be toxic to dogs


Beef or vegetable suet-based ‘cakes’

Pinhead oatmeal or uncooked porridge oats

2. Foods to avoid:

Soft fats and oils (can soil feathers)

Dried foods e.g. coconut, uncooked rice (could swell after ingestion)

Bread (nutritionally lacking, compared with other foods)

Milk (birds are not adapted to digest milk)

Cooked porridge (can stick to beak)

3. Provide clean fresh water. This is not only for the birds to drink but to help keep their feathers in good condition for insulation.

4. Don’t provide too much. Ensure that food does not go mouldy and clean bird feeders regularly as excess food can attract vermin.

5. Avoid substantial pruning. This is especially relevant for berry-producing vegetation such as holly and ivy that will continue to hold fruit long into winter.

6. Record what you see. Do this through the BTO Garden BirdWatch online, which gathers observations from the public, so that it can monitor garden birds every week of the year.

Just by following these few simple steps, you could play your part to help birds this winter. Dr Tim Harrison, BTO Garden BirdWatch, said: “Research shows that providing food during winter improves the survival prospects of many species and can even boost breeding success in the following spring. Cold winters often occur in flurries and if last winter is anything to go by, then thousands of birds will race to our handouts during the next few months.”

As well as helping your local bird population, looking after your feathered friends could also be beneficial to you, says Harrison. “Huge numbers of birds that are normally scarce garden visitors, such as Redwing, Fieldfare and Brambling, can pour into our towns and cities during cold weather – so autumn and winter is a great time to be an armchair birdwatcher. Research shows that interactions with nature can reduce levels of stress, so feeding birds can be a positive activity all round.”

For more information about BTO Garden BirdWatch, visit:

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