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Survival of the fattest

It’s cold out.

It’s winter. At least, it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere. And I trust that those of you for whom this has no current relevance, will at least bear with me, and at best, translate this offering to your own time and your own place.

Take a look outside. Where are all the birds?

If they’re not in your garden, it may be because they’ve found richer pickings elsewhere. Or it may be that there are simply fewer birds to go round these days. Believe it. Many of our once common garden birds are in decline. We gardeners can do a great deal to help our feathered friends through the cold, hungry days of winter.

November is the most important month to start feeding, when nature’s autumn harvest is beginning to wear thin. But once you’ve started (and I hope you have), you must continue until at least April, when they tend to disperse to their favourite breeding grounds. Meantime, they have become dependent on you. Don’t let them down.

However, it is now generally recognised that feeding beyond April is important, and indeed there is much evidence to support year round feeding. Supplementary food in the breeding season can sometimes prove vital.

Traditionally, birdfood has been scraps and waste products. But more recent research has shown just how harmful this can be. Some products sold were (and still are if you buy the cheap stuff) toxic to birds. Our feeding must emulate nature as closely as possible – ie natural products without chemicals which are already doing so much harm to our native bird population.

When feeding, in practical terms, remember that there are two distinct feeding types. Clinging feeders (tits and finches, for example), and ground feeders like thrushes, blackbirds and robins. Obviously, then, you need to provide for both – by scattering food on the ground, and providing hanging feeders for the “clingers”.

A compromise is the old traditional bird table, which offers a platform for ground feeders (above cat height, which is an advantage!), but is also accessible by virtue of height, to clingers. A useful point to remember, though, is to site your bird table, or your hanging feeders, in an open location, not within the spread of shrubs or trees. Birds will feed more happily in an open location, where they can keep one eye out for predators.

I’ve kept the most important bit till last.

Water.

We never think, do we? We fill the bird table and scatter seed on the frozen ground. But we forget that birds can’t drink ice. Birds will survive for days without food, but like us they can’t survive for long without water.

So place a shallow dish of water on the bird table, and another on the ground nearby, during those freezing days when all around the garden is ice. And don’t forget to change them when they freeze. And if you have a garden pond, melt a patch of ice as you would if you have fish. That’s at least another option for them.

The RSPB website offers a wealth of information, not only on garden bird feeding, but on birds in general. Go to www.rspb.org.uk.

And if you want to buy good quality bird food online, and also get some great information on the subject, visit C.J Wild Bird Foods, at www.birdfood.co.uk.

It’s a sad state of affairs, but please remember that our natural bird population now depends on unnatural assistance (you and me) for its survival. Think about that. Please.

PG Author: Mike Clark

Mike discovered the joys of horticulture when, as a small child, he overheard a neighbour say she'd dropped a sixpence in the tattie patch. He has been digging ever since, with the tenacity of a true Scot, hoping one day to find a fiver. Despite now running his own landscape gardening business, Mike claims to be permanently broke, due in part to his quest for fame resulting in writing gardening columns for free. He likes trees, Jack Russells, and 12 year old Glen Ord, but not necessarily in that order. Gifts of any of these can be sent c/o britishexpat.com, but he would like to point out that the third item is by far the easiest and cheapest to post. One of the highlights of his life was winning a toilet brush in a raffle. He persevered with it for ages, but he's back on the paper now... Mike approaches gardening and writing with exactly the same formula. Throw in plenty of manure, and something good will eventually spring up.

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