How to put on a festive bird buffet this winter
There’s nothing quite like winter for comfort food: Sunday roasts, warm apple pie, a mug of hot chocolate by the fire. And that’s just for the humans – did you know, you can help spread the festive gastronomic joy with your local birds, too?
Any additional food you can give birds will be particularly appreciated during these colder months, with most of their normal food sources such as worms, seeds, and berries becoming very difficult to find – and they also need additional calories just to stay warm. This doesn’t mean you have to rush out to the shops, however. Birds love eating many of the same foods we do, so you can pop your leftovers out on the bird table as a festive treat.
If this is your first time putting food out for the birds, it might take some time for them to find you, but don’t give up – just keep putting out fresh leftovers every few days so it doesn’t get mouldy, and the birds will come to you. You might be surprised at what turns up! Robins, blackbirds, starlings, and collared doves are all common garden birds, but you may even have a winter migrant bird, such as a redwing, sampling your offerings.
Here are some ideas for leftover treats you can feed the birds:
Cheese – mild grated cheese is a classic hit with robins, dunnocks, blackbirds, and song thrushes.
Unsalted bacon rind – chopping it up means a lot of birds will be able to have a nibble, and magpies and crows are liable to fly off with the whole lump if not well-anchored! But make sure there’s no salt in it, as salt is toxic to birds.
Ripe or bruised apples and pears – thrushes, tits, and starlings are big fans.
Pastry – uncooked or cooked, either is good as long as it’s made with real fats.
Dried fruit – raisins, sultanas, and currants are favourites with blackbirds, song thrushes and robins (they can be dangerous to dogs and cats though, so this is one to avoid if you have pets in the area).
Not everything we eat is good for birds, however. Here are some foods to avoid:
Anything with salt – salt is toxic to birds, so make sure to keep it off your bird table and don’t put salt in your birdbath to keep it ice-free.
Cooking fat – leftover fat from your Sunday roast could smear onto birds’ feathers and ruin their waterproofing and insulating qualities.
Cooked porridge oats – they are glutinous, and can harden around a bird’s beak.
Milk – birds can’t digest milk so it can make them seriously ill.
Dried coconut – it can swell up in their stomach and make them sick.
Another great option, if you don’t have leftovers, is packaged bird food. Sparrows, tits, and finches, for example, will all visit feeders containing nuts, fat, or seed mixtures. The insect-eaters, such as dunnocks, robins, and starlings prefer mealworms, while suet-based products are an all-round crowd-pleaser with their high-calorie content.
And now, for the drinks order. Water is key for birds, both to drink and to clean their feathers, but a lot of ponds and rivers freeze over in winter. You can help by putting out a birdbath – you can buy one from the RSPB store, or make one at home. Even a dustbin lid with some stones at the bottom for grip will do the job!
But if you’ve done all that, and are looking for more ways to help, there are lots of options that can suit your outdoor space, whether it’s a garden, balcony, or doorstep:
Put up a nestbox – buying or making a nestbox will give birds somewhere to shelter over the winter, as well as a place to raise their chicks in the spring.
Add plant life – lots of gorgeous shrubs, trees, and flowers provide food for birds, either through their berries, seeds, or by attracting tasty insects.
Count your birds – every year for the past four decades, the RSPB has asked people to let us know what birds they see over the course of an hour. This helps us to keep track of how garden birds are doing, and last year a record-breaking one million people took part!
Text BIRD to 70030 or visit rspb.org.uk/birdwatch from 8 December to sign up.
For more ideas, inspiration, and advice, head to rspb.org.uk/yourdoorstep
To learn more about how connecting with nature can support your wellbeing, visit lifecoach-directory.org.uk