Christmas dinner for birds

Kate Bradbury puts out natural food for birds

Christmas is a time of abundance for us humans, but spare a thought for garden birds, for whom natural sources of food can be scarce. In our gardens natural food is always best, so stocking up our gardens with berry- and seed-bearing plants and trees can really help them. You can also let leaves rot down naturally in your borders and allow areas of grass to grow long, providing shelter for lots of invertebrates, which of course birds eat.

More winter advice for garden birds:

Here, Kate Bradbury shares her Christmas dinner display for garden birds:

What to give garden birds during the festive season

Berrying trees and shrubs include rowan, hawthorn, guelder rose, holly and ivy. Avoid cotoneaster as some species, including Cotoneaster horizontalis, are extremely invasive and can spread out into the wild and out-compete native plants. Seeds-bearing trees include silver birch and alder, both of which are loved by tits, while leaving sunflowers, echinacea, teasels and even plants like lavender after they have set seed, can provide a bonus source of natural food for a wide range of bird species. In short, grow more and tidy less. The birds will thank you for it.

Bear in mind that hours of daylight are very limited at this time of year, so garden birds have a small window to find enough food to keep them warm at night. You can offer supplementary food to help make up for the shortfall of natural food in your garden and the lack of available daylight to find food elsewhere, but you must ensure you keep your feeders clean. Many diseases are spread at bird feeders, including trichonomosis, which affects finches, and avian pox, which is often seen in tits. I have several bird feeders which I use on rotation each time it is emptied, and clean them with hot, soapy water before rinsing thoroughly and leaving to dry.

Foods to provide for birds at Christmas include calorie-rich sunflower hearts, peanuts, “no mess” mixes and suet. You can leave out Christmas scraps such as bread or cake crumbs as long as they’re not too sweet or salty, small amounts of grated cheese and cooked rice, and rehydrated raisins and sultanas, but only if you don’t have a dog, as sultanas can be lethal to dogs.

Avoid leaving fat from cooking as it might not solidify if conditions are mild, and never leave out turkey fat, which is soft and can smear on birds’ feathers, preventing them from being able to fly. As well as food, always leave a dish of fresh water, again taking care to ensure you clean the bird bath regularly to prevent the spread of diseases.



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