Christmas lunch fits the bill for garden birdlife
PUBLISHED: 00:16 09 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:16 20 February 2013
When you're tucking into the turkey spare a thought for hungry garden birds. They wouldn't mind sharing a bit of your festive feast to help keep out the cold this winter
Its not just turkeys that have a rough time of it come Christmas Day. The 12 days of Christmas can be pretty tough for garden birds too, as this traditional time of feasting and general blow-outs is often a period of famine for the popular species that visit our gardens.
Robins in the snow might make great subjects for Christmas cards, but in truth winter is a harsh, unforgiving time for garden birds. And the bleak midwinter we sing about so heartily in church on Christmas morning really is a bleak time of year for our native wildlife.
So when youre snug indoors tucking into your big festive bird, spare a
thought for the little birds huddled somewhere in the frost outside. Conservationists this month are encouraging us not to forget their needs too, and in this traditional time of giving are recommending we step on up the supplementary food treats we normally provide for them because this could make the all-important difference between starvation and survival.
They point out that by helping out the north-easts garden birds in this way we can make a huge difference to their chances; enabling them to stay healthy and build condition for the busy spring breeding season ahead.
Its all about high energy foods really, says director of Durham Wildlife Trust, Jim Cokill. The ingredients that you put in your Christmas cake are all good for birds, he advises.
Birds need this high energy food during the cold weather to keep their body temperatures high enough to get them through the chilly, frosty winter nights. That means putting out things like energy-rich fat balls and fat-based food bars in addition to the peanuts and table seed normally on offer at the back-garden bird table.
If you buy the fat balls sold in nylon mesh bags, however, the RSPB advises removing the mesh before hanging the balls up in the garden, because it can trap and injure small birds.
With everyone watching the pennies this Christmas adding all these rich treats to the seasonal shopping list could easily push up an already spiralling food bill. But there are affordable alternatives that will help the birds just as much.
First of all, instead of buying fat balls, make your own. The ingredients should be to hand at this time of year and you dont need the culinary skills of Nigella. For home-made avian Christmas cake simply mix two thirds of dried fruit,
seed and nuts into one third of melted suet or lard. Leave it to set in a container before decanting it and hanging it out in the garden.
The other option is even easier, and well worth considering at a time when food security and waste are serious issues for us all. Instead of chucking the Christmas lunch leftovers straight into the bin why not share the rich, high fat remains of the day with the garden birds. If you cant face another mince pie, they can.
Take a look at our accompanying box in the article and youll be astonished at just how much of our festive fare can be served up cold for the birds. When you reckon that a ten to 30 gram bird needs to consume around 40 per cent of its own body weight each day to survive in winter our high-sustenance Christmas feast fits the bill perfectly - quite literally in this case.
So dont just hand round Christmas cake and fruit and nuts to family, friends and neighbours - save some seasonal sweetmeats for the birds. And when you start that January diet dont send the complete contents of your Christmas cupboard to the landfill; chop them into beak-size bites and scatter them on the bird table and a low tray for ground feeding species.
And if youre planning a New Year drinks party, bear in mind any leftover unsalted nuts are brilliant for birds like sparrows, robins, tits and greenfinches when crushed into manageable bits. Avoid putting any leftover salted nuts and snacks out for birds, however, as these could be harmful for them.
Feathered friends also enjoy a tipple at Christmas. Dehydration can be as big a problem for garden birds as starvation when its icy, so make sure theres a plentiful, regular supply of water for them. Break the ice on birdbaths when its freezing or simply empty the bath
at the end of each day and refill again
in the morning when you top up your bird feeders.
Water isnt only vital for drinking,
its also necessary for keeping birds feathers in good condition so theyre well-insulated against the cold, winter nights. Insect-eating birds in particular need extra water at this time because
the caterpillars that usually provide part of their moisture requirement are in short supply.
Given that your birds will be burning up precious energy simply making trips to and from your garden, make sure to keep supplementary food supplies topped up even when the 12 days of Christmas have been and gone. The local bird population may have come to depend on you.
Aim to offer a full smorgasbord of different food types to ensure the feeding preferences of the different species flying in to your garden are met. Dont forget ground feeders either when you top up bird tables. Scatter some food on the ground for dunnocks, blackbirds and thrushes, and hang up a variety of seed feeders for finches, tits and siskins. If you live near trees hang up peanut feeders and fat cakes to attract nuthatches, coal tits, long-tailed tits and even greater spotted woodpeckers.
If youre not too squeamish about handling them, consider live food like mealworms (available dried if you really dont fancy it) for insect-eaters. We also find that a regular handful of supermarket value brand sultanas put out for the blackbirds and robins is lapped up greedily each morning. Its also a good idea to plant traditionally festive foliage bushes like holly and ivy to help attract birds to your garden in the first place so that come next Christmas you enjoy watching them flitting about to visit your feeders on a frosty morning once again.
Finally in the event we get a white Christmas, dont forget to clear a patch on the ground in the snow before scattering any food for the birds.