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How to look after garden birds during the winter
Robin (Photo: VT Freeze Frame)
Garden birds such as the robin needs looking after during winter

The RSPB is appealing for people to spare a thought for garden birds during the cold snap by giving them a bit more to eat.

During winter, freezing temperatures, snow and ice can prove difficult for birds to find enough food.

"Freezing weather is a potential death sentence for many birds," said Erica Howe from RSPB Eastern England.

People are being encouraged to leave out high-energy foods such as fatballs, dried fruit, cheese and unsalted nuts.

"Just a little water, food and shelter can turn your garden into a vital haven for birds," said Erica.

Finding food and ensuring wild birds eat enough of it to build and keep up adequate fat supplies is the greatest test in winter.

"They're a little bit vulnerable and slightly open to infection… they need to have their energy levels kept up," said Erica.

However, it is important that you put out the right ingredients for a energy-filled diet that is in harmony with garden birds' digestive systems.

"A lot of people over Christmas give birds the remains of their turkey fat and that's a big no no! It's very bad for our garden birds," said Erica.

Stale bread is also not the most nutritious of foods to feed birds.

Song Thrush (Photo: RSPB)
Put out feed regularly, especially in severe weather. Set up a bird table and use high-calorie seed mixes. This can also be used to put out kitchen scraps such as animal fats, grated cheese and porridge oats
Put out hanging feeders for black sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, sunflower-rich mixes or unsalted peanuts
Ensure a supply of fresh water every day. If it is very cold use tepid water, but do not use any antifreeze products
Put out fruit such as apples and pears for blackbirds, song thrushes and other members of the thrush family
Food bars or fat hung up or rubbed into the bark of trees is a great help for treecreepers, goldcrests and many other species
Put up nest boxes to provide roost sites for the smaller birds. They will then be used for breeding later in the year

"You should use anything that contains a little bit more energy and saturated fat content. If you put out the crumbs of your leftover Christmas cake and mince pies that will help."

During winter, natural food is often covered in snow and ice and impossible to salvage. Water birds can also be forced to leave iced-over lakes and rivers and they regularly seek refuge in our gardens.

"Insects become harder to find and seeds and berries can be locked away by snow and frost," said Erica.

Water is also vital for birds to drink and bathe in. Bird baths can be kept from freezing over using small floating items like twigs or table tennis balls - antifreeze products should never be used.

Recommended food for your garden birds include meal worms, soft fruit, seeds and grain, porridge oats, unsalted bacon, cooked rice, pasta, the insides of cooked potatoes and pastry.

People should also not panic if they notice a change in the behaviour of birds during extreme conditions - the RSPB says this is quite normal.

You may witness a flurry of activity first thing in the morning - as birds replenish energy lost overnight and last thing in the afternoon to prepare for the long night ahead.

Many birds also become more sociable to improve their chances of survival during cold weather - you may hear a lot of singing from the blackbird!

The birds will also flock together in winter to improve their chances of finding food and huddle during the cold night times to conserve body heat.

For more information on how to look after your garden birds during winter and what species you can spot visit the RSPB website.

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