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Helping garden wildlife in winter

By Jim Cokill
Director, Durham Wildlife Trust

Blue tit at a bird feeder
Keeping the garden birds well fuelled is the least we can do

Birds can benefit from extra feeding at any time of the year, but during autumn and winter, the food we put out in our gardens really can mean the difference between life and death.

In winter, birds need food sources that are rich in energy to allow them to keep warm and maintain body weight.

Feed the fat

Fats are the most efficient way of delivering energy and birds need saturated fats, such as those found in lard and suet, rather than the unsaturated types that are found in man made products such as margarine.

Cheese is also a good source of fat, but other dairy products such as milk should never be given, as birds are unable to digest the sugars and proteins in "raw" non-fermented dairy products.

Other good sources of fat are seeds and nuts and the peanut is as good as any, and cheap and easy to feed.

Sunflower seeds, particularly the black variety, are also a great winter food source and edible by a wide range of species, whilst other seeds, such as nyjer, require specialist feeders and provide a viable food source for a restricted number of species e.g. goldfinches.

There are a wide range of seed mixes available, but avoid those containing coloured lumps as this is often dog biscuit, which if soaked in water is a good food source but should not be given when dry as it can swell in the birds gut.

Finally, avoid putting food in plastic nets - use a wire mesh feeder.

Here are Jim's top 10 tips to help your garden wildlife:

Hedgehog
These small creatures of the garden need our help - watch out at bonfires

1 Feed the birds - put out as wide a range of foods as possible, and regularly clean feeders and bird tables.

2 Don't forget water - particularly during icy weather.

3 A few leaves in your garden pond is fine, but too many can cause problems. If your pond is beside trees, put netting over it, or occasionally fish out leaves with a net.

4 Hedgehogs need places to hibernate, so if you can put out a hedgehog box or leave piles of undisturbed vegetation - please do.

5 Check any bonfire you create, before lighting it - hedgehogs may well have gone to sleep there.

6 Many butterflies, over winter, either as adults or as pupae or even as caterpillars, need undisturbed places to hibernate - don't be too tidy.

7 November is the right time of year to clean out nest boxes for next year.

8 If you haven't got a garden pond, now is a great time to dig one, and with luck it will fill with rain water over winter and be ready for the spring.

9 Don't pick all your fruit - leave some on the tree and windfalls on the ground to provide food for a variety of wildlife.

10 Long winter nights are a great time to read up and plan your wildlife projects for next year.

Jim Cokill regularly writes articles for the BBC Wear website on nature and wildlife - you can read more in the right side of this page.




SEE ALSO
Water voles thrive in North East
03 Nov 09 |  Nature & Outdoors
The common lobster's coastline
08 Oct 09 |  Wear
Autumn-time brings falling leaves
14 Sep 09 |  Nature & Outdoors
Summer's wildlife in the rain
02 Sep 09 |  Nature & Outdoors

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