Feeding birds who stay in this country over the cold winter months benefits both your feathered visitors and your garden. Nathan James Dodd describes how to encourage these visitors with bird feeders and specialist bird food.
Birds, amphibians and other wildlife are good for your garden and fascinating to watch. In the winter it's not difficult to provide assistance to help them survive the cold.
Bird feeders are easy to set up. Place at head height away from cats and near a sheltered area such as a hedge, so that the birds can have a safe haven while feeding.
Bags of specialised winter food is available from garden centres and many other retailers, as well as other high protein goodies such as fat balls that you can easily make-up in your kitchen.
Remember not to leave any netting or mesh, that you have used to hang food up, lying around once the fat is eaten - birds will get tangled in it. Also don't use polyunsaturated fats or butter that might get smeared on their feathers.
Fruit is a also a nutritious and juicy bird food, unsalted peanuts and bacon, fresh coconut and uncooked oats are other useful foodstuffs, as are leftovers such as bits of cheese, soaked dog biscuits, boiled rice and spare pet food (although the latter might also attract unwanted attention from cats). Never give birds milk, cooked oats or desiccated coconut.
Try and make the garden bird friendly by not cutting down seeding plants such as sunflowers and encourage berry bearing trees and shrubs like holly, viburnum or pyracantha. You can also think about locating nesting boxes to provide shelter over the winter and a nesting site in the spring.
Bird baths, or just a dish of water, away from predators are also vital not only as a drinking source but also somewhere to clean feathers. Make sure the water is fresh and unfrozen.
Due to a reduction in habitat, hedgehogs have declined in numbers tremendously over the last 50 years. Make sure there are gaps in your fence so that they can roam freely and wild areas with wood piles where they can shelter and hibernate. Plans for luxury hedgehog houses can be found on the internet. Slug pellets should also be avoided as they reduce the gasteropod's availability as hedgehog food.
Don't tidy the garden up too much and leave any hedge cutting until the spring. Only clear away leaves from the lawn and paths, as frogs love to snuggle up in them to hibernate. Undergrowth and hedges provide shelter and feeding opportunities to many insects and animals.
Keep ponds clear of ice by pouring hot water over the surface. Some frogs hibernate at the bottom of ponds and this will avoid harmful gases building up from rotting vegetation. Dying plants should never be allowed to fall into the pond to avoid this happening. Try not to disturb butterflies who like to overwinter in sheds. Avoid destroying spiders' eggs and moth larvae when digging borders. If you do happen to disturb a hibernating amphibian, cover it up quickly with leaves or if you see a hedgehog who hasn't successfully hibernated, feed it on water and dog food, if it's small or out during the day it might be best to contact a specialist organisation for advice.
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