We can help garden birds survive the winter by providing them with food and clean water (1). This must be done on a consistent basis and strict hygienic standards must be observed. More harm than good can be done by not being consistent and hygienic in our approach.
A bird table is a must. Ones made from marine ply will last the longest. They don’t have to be complicated structures with fancy roofs and windows. A good one can be constructed from a piece of ply, 40cm x 40cm. four short laths and a tree stake (2a;2b). We have instructions on this website on how to create one: See www.engagewithnature.ie/ngr-dec/ It’s important to keep the area around the table free from food in order not to attract rodents. The latter, and cats can also be deterred by fitting an upturned biscuit tin or flower pot on the stake to prevent them from climbing (2c). It’s also important to clean it once a week with a mild disinfectant and to change its location about once a month. This will minimize the risk of diseases being spread. Dried oatmeal, grated cheese, sunflower hearts and sliced apples are types of suitable food to place on it.
A hanging birdfeeder can be hung from a hook on the bird table or on a post (3a). It can also be hung from a tree branch or a hanging basket bracket. Unsalted peanuts which are rich in protein and fat can be placed in it. Tits, greenfinches, goldfinches and house sparrows love these (3b).
Apples and pears have a high-water content and provide energy for birds such as blackbirds, thrushes and robins (4a;4b). Cut these into halves and leave them on the bird table or on the ground.
Fresh, clean water is essential for providing birds with drinking water and for bathing so that their feathers can be kept healthy. An upturned dustbin lid similar to the one on the picture is ideal. A sand/cement mixture is used for the base of this so that the bath won’t be too deep and that birds have a secure footing. This bath holds about 7.5 cm of water (5). We have a video on this site on how to construct a bird bath: www.engagewithnature.ie/ngr-dec/
Finally, don’t forget to supply them with fat in the form of lard or suet to keep them warm (6). There are various recipes online for making fat balls and cakes. Cooking fat is not suitable because it causes their feathers to stick together.