There’s much to be said for a healthy bird population in the garden – in winter most of all. When your blooms have retreated from cold weather and the space becomes a mesh of grey and brown, particularly with the shorter days, it can make for a depressing sight. Having these little nodes of life and colour infest the garden can be a blessing but what are the best ways to ensure this?
Like any animal, the birds’ main concerns are food and water. Unfortunately, most insects, which provide the source of summer food, tend to make for the underground when the first chill sets in, so your best bet is a variety of seeds to compensate for this scarcity. Sunflower and Nyger seeds are particularly effective and are known for attracting the beautiful Goldfinch species, but avoid mixed bags of seed if possible, because, despite their agreeable price tags, the majority of the biomass won’t appeal to winter birds.
You can use flaked suet, preferably mixed with fruit or nuts, to attract Robins, Blackbirds and Tits among others, or, for my friend in Oklahoma, I would suggest apple chunks, cracked corn and peanut pieces to lure in those Cardinals. Peanuts are good for Tits and Woodpeckers too. Wrens on the other hand prefer some grated cheese or animal fat and compressed insect cakes will do wonders for a Finch population. When it comes to cheese shavings and fruit, it is obvious that feed cages won’t be effective as the food itself will be too large to fit through the mesh, instead leave these on a raised surface and, to detract from the threat of insects, create a perimeter of oyster shell grit to discourage them. Squirrels will take advantage of these food sources if they’re not properly discouraged, the most effective means of doing this is tailoring the feeding station, as a squirrel can reach most locations a bird can. To this end, I’d recommend wire mesh around your food stuff of which only a beak could take advantage.
The placement of bird feeders is important too and, if possible, locate your feeder in the cover of an existing tree or structure. However, it is worth noting that you shouldn’t invest absolutely in one spot for your feeders. Obviously location should be chosen for visibility, so that you may enjoy the activities of your new guests, however, if you want to avoid the necessary fouling that a long term feeding station guarantees then I would suggest changing the position of the feeder every few months to avoid a nasty build up.
Next we have water, and bird baths are an age old solution as they can be replenished once empty and any ice that settles on them can easily be broken. If you’re lucky enough to have a pond in the garden, make sure you keep a part of it free from ice too for your feathered friends.
The only other requirement for this endeavour is patience – any feeding cycle should be expected to take several weeks before fruition and even then the initial numbers may be lower than you expected. Don’t despair! Persevere and even if you’re garden doesn’t feel the benefits in winter, it will definitely compensate you will the surplus of nests and chicks in the spring season as your hard work comes home to roost. (Pun utterly intended!)
By Josh Ellison