January Gardening for Wildlife



Looking after the birds

This is probably the month during which birds benefit most from a little human intervention.

Natural food sources like fallen apples and hawthorn berries have been used up by the population of local birds and competition from visitors from the arctic north. Insects are in hibernation, the ground is frozen solid and water sources are iced over. It is therefore vital to feed birds regularly, putting out food every day. Early morning is the best time although you can put out a second feed in the early afternoon.

Fresh water is important too, even if there is a pond – many birds will drink from the bird table and wash their feathers in the pond.

Put out a range of food. On the ground and on the table.  Include hanging feeders with nuts for tits, sparrows and siskins. Apples on the ground for the blackbirds and thrushes and seeds, nuts and fat on the table for robins, starlings and other species. They will come to rely on this food supply, so once you’ve begun to feed, keep it up until the worst of the winter is over.

Recommended Bird food

Peanuts – These should be unsalted, although the salt can be washed off and the nuts dried thoroughly. Commercially produced nuts should bear the Birdfood Standards Association’s seal of approval. This guarantees the nuts are free from contamination by aflatoxin, a toxin produced in nuts which have not been harvested and packed correctly, which sometimes results in death to birds who eat them.

Sunflower seeds – Wild bird food mixtures containing sunflower and other seeds are available from suppliers advertising in bird magazines and increasingly in hardware and pet shops.

Half a coconut – Drill a hole in the top and use string to hang the shell downwards so that it stays dry. Don’t use desiccated coconut as it swells up inside the bird.

Kitchen scraps – Not all food scraps are suitable. Try bacon rind, dry porridge oats, suet, cheese, raisins. Stale bread or cake is acceptable but it should be soaked in water to make it easier to swallow.


Keep Ice free

It is important to keep at least some part of the pond, free of ice throughout any cold spells. This not only allows birds and other visitors like foxes to drink but also stops a build up of gases under the ice.  As organic water decomposes, gases are released, which if trapped by a layer of ice will build up and poison existing pond life. A simple and cheap method of allowing the pond to breathe is to float a block of wood on the surface of the water.  Then when the pond freezes, remove the wood, leaving a gap. A child’s plastic or foam ball will also prevent ice forming over all the surface, but avoid lurid colours which can scare away potential users.

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