Birds are an essential part of the garden, helping with pest control as they snap up aphids, caterpillars, grubs and other insect pests. But in the winter, food can be scarce. Regular feeding will encourage birds to keep coming back to your garden, so they’ll be around during the growing season to help keep pests in check.
Natural Foods for Birds
Avoid tidying up ornamental borders until early spring. This will provide shelter for insects, which the birds will hunt for and eat.
Grow plants that birds love. They enjoy the winter berries from shrubs like cotoneaster, hawthorn and yew, and the seedheads of plants such as globe artichoke, sunflowers and teasel.
Digging over the soil in winter can help to expose slug eggs and overwintering grubs to make it easier for birds to find them.
Birds also enjoy proprietary birdseed mixtures, unsalted peanuts and dried mealworms. They’ll also eat leftover cooked rice or potatoes, unsalted bacon rind, cooked or raw pastry, and stale or hard mild cheese.
Hang feeders or position bird tables where birds can get a good view of their surroundings so they won’t be ambushed by predators. Only put out small amounts of food at a time, and replenish often to insure a continuous supply. See best type of bird feeders for different types of birds.
Some birds will eat tree fruits such as apples and pears—a great way to use up blemished fruits. Hang them from a tree or chop them up and scatter them on the ground for ground-feeding birds.
Make Bird Cakes
Bird cakes are very easy to make. Mix dried ingredients such as crushed, unsalted peanuts, sunflower seeds, grains, mealworms and dried fruit in a bowl. Melt some animal fat, or coconut oil for a vegetarian alternative, then pour the fat into the bowl. Mix one part fat to two parts dried ingredients.
The fat mixture can then be used to fill a variety of molds. For instance, spike a hole into the base of an old yogurt pot then thread a piece of string through. Make a knot to secure the string to the bottom of the pot, then tie on a stick to serve as a perch below the pot. Pour the pot with the fat mixture and leave it to set.
Pinecones also make good bird feeders. Tie string to the base then smear the cone with the part-set mixture. Or pour the bird food mixture into a flexible container to make a loaf of bird cake. Once it has set, remove the bird cake and put it into a wire cage bird feeder to hang up.
Offer Fresh Water
Water is essential for both drinking and washing for birds. You can purchase a birdbath or use a dog bowl or upturned dustbin lid, with a rock in the middle so the birds can get in and out easily. Make your first job of the day to put out fresh, warm water so that birds can bathe and preen their feathers (clean feathers provide better insulation from the cold). Keep the water topped up and clean out the bird bath regularly.