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    Feed the birds: How to ready your garden for winter

    ArticleBird AdviceFriday 11 November 2011
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    Serve up a feast for the birds and let the leaves pile up, says wildlife gardening expert Kate Bradbury

    My garden is ready for the birds. I've cleaned and refilled the feeders and bird bath, left the borders looking dishevelled, and there are three piles of leaves providing shelter for insects and grubs.

    I supplement garden birds' food all year round, but it's in winter when they most need our help. The ground is too hard to dig for worms, while caterpillars, aphids, beetles and grubs are well hidden – hibernating in thick vegetation. If that isn't enough, it's cold, and there are few hours of daylight in which birds can actively search for food.

    Small birds like blue tits and wrens are in particular danger of dying on winter nights because they have a large surface area from which to lose heat and it takes a lot of calories just to stay warm. To help them, I leave a daily supply of fresh, clean water, which they use to drink and clean their feathers, and fill my feeders with calorie-rich sunflower hearts and peanuts.

     

     

    For larger, ground-feeding birds, I leave chopped apples in the borders. They also like to turn leaves over in search of food, so I gather some from the park and pile them into corners of the garden. By late-winter, every leaf has been turned over and is scattered in drifts among the borders, each hibernating slug, beetle and caterpillar plucked from its winter refuge.

    For ground-feeding wrens and migrant birds too shy to visit feeding stations, I put out seeds, cake crumbs, grated cheese, rice and pasta at the back of borders. If you do this, leave small quantities only, so as to avoid the attentions of rats. Last year the snow made ground feeding difficult, so I placed food in a tray, beneath an umbrella. The robin found it easily enough.

    There's also plenty of natural food available in gardens, if we allow it. Avoid chopping down ivy until after the birds have had their fill, and grow holly, honeysuckle, guelder rose and hawthorn to provide a long season of calorie-rich berries. You may find you don't need to buy the plants – the blackbirds have donated three ivy seedlings to my garden, although it will be a long time before they provide the fuel birds need to get through winter.
     
    My dishevelled borders look tatty, but they provide seed and insect forage. Finches take seeds from plants such as agastache, bergamot, cornflowers, teasels, dill, lavender and verbena bonariensis, while sparrows love the seeds of pampas grass. Any hibernating insect found along the way will be quickly hoovered up. I don't know if the birds will get a look in this year, a mouse has already felled one of the sunflower heads, leaving a pile of seed husks for me to find outside the back door.

     

    Source: The Guardian

    Kate Bradbury writes and commissions wildlife content for Gardeners' World Magazine and writes a weekly blog on gardenersworld.com

     

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