January, with the remains of the Autumn fruit long gone and Spring still a long way away, is a dangerous time for wild birds. In harsh weather, they use much of their energy just keeping warm, and can struggle to find food and water on the frozen ground. Making your garden into a bird-friendly feeding station will help them enormously, and you’ll benefit from seeing regular visitors flying in to feed.
To get started, choose a suitable location in your garden and put up a bird feeder. This should be sufficiently high to be away from predators such as cats, and not too close to the house, so that any spilled seed doesn’t bring rodents to your door.
Make sure you can see the feeder from your windows so that you can admire the variety of avian life. Bird feeders don’t have to be expensive, and a homemade version of an old plant saucer wedged into a tree works well, as long as it’s solid and stable. Alternatively, put up a few hooks on a fence or tree for hanging fat balls or peanut feeders.
There are also many purpose-made feeders available, if you’d like your birds to dine in style. Here’s our pick:
This cute feeder is great value at only £5 from The Great Gift Company. Thread an apple or fat ball onto the central spike, and watch the birds flock.
If you’d like to give your feathered visitors a little more choice, how about this wooden chalet style feeder? It comes with five treats, such as bags of nuts and fat balls, and there’s also space to add an apple. £10, from The Great Gift Company as above.
For a funky, modern take on the traditional feeder, this shiny red version has five holes so that multiple birds can feed at once. It also provides a shelter during rainy weather. £32.50 from Red Candy.
This traditional stone bird table will provide a focal point for your garden. Spread it with a tempting array of kitchen scraps, and don’t forget to add a saucer of water in dry or very cold weather. Arcadian bird table, £99 from Haddon Stone.
What to feed
The advice from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is to offer a wide variety of foods, as different species have different appetites. Ready-made seed mixes are easily available, but avoid cheaper mixes that have a high proportion of pulses such as dried peas or lentils, as these can only really be eaten by larger species. Foods harmful to garden birds include used cooking fat, margarine and milk.
Fat cakes and balls are a great source of calories over the winter, and are inexpensive to buy. The RSPB recommend removing the netting, as smaller birds can get their feet caught.
It’s easy to make your own fat balls, as well – you’ll need a small plastic container such as an old yoghurt pot, some seed mix and some suet or lard. Start by piercing the base of the pot with a skewer, then poke a loop of string through. Tie the ends together in a large knot, and pull through so that the knot sits against the inside of the base. Sit the pot in a mug, to keep it upright while you fill it. Using 2/3 seed to 1/3 fat, melt the fat in the microwave. Let it set until it’s just started to go opaque, then mix in the seeds. Spoon it into the pot, pressing down firmly. Hang the pot upside down from the string loop. Alternatively, you can just set the mixture in a container and turn it out onto the bird table.
For more information about how to feed the birds this January, visit www.rspb.org.uk.