Watching songbirds flit about the garden is delightful whatever time of year, but in winter when the garden is a little bare and somewhat bleak, it is somehow more beautiful.
If you want birds to do their pest control thing eating aphids and caterpillars in spring and summer, it’s a good idea to feed all year round. You’re basically saying this is a place you’ll always find food and that news gets out. But to get that message out you need to start somewhere and they will come flocking if you feed them in winter.
We love feeding birds so much that you can buy food, everything from the supermarket to the petrol station, but not all bird food is equal. Much of the cheap stuff is imported in and can vary wildly in quality. It doesn’t quite make sense to feed native birds with peanuts grown far away. The best bird food I know is made by Wiggly Wigglers and is grown by farmers in Herefordshire. This is a double whammy for our wildlife because it means there are fields of nectar and pollen rich plants all summer long, plenty of spoil left over in the fields for local birds and great British grown fare for your garden. Buying in bulk makes the most financial sense and as long as you store the food somewhere dry, it can last for a very long time.
Although those metal bird feeders make a lot of sense, aesthetically they just don’t work for me. Instead I like to use a variety of feeders including my own homemade ones and dot them around the garden. I have plenty of neighbourhood cats so I make sure these smaller feeders are nestled into spots where there’s plenty of cover for small birds. Place next to a large rambling rose that has plenty of thorny cover so cats can’t get in or next to shrubs and trees, so little birds only need to dart to the feeder and back to cover. I like to use small feeders because this tends to discourage bigger birds like pigeons and magpies who’ll dominate the feeders.
Homemade bird feed
Apples make a wonderful cheap food particularly for blackbirds. But leaving apples on the ground can attract rats and makes a bit of a mess, so the easiest thing to do is hang the apple from a bit of wire from a tree. You could easily fashion your own with a bit of wire and some imagination.
Finally, I like to offer some fat or suet balls for the birds. This is a high energy food that is particularly important when the temperature drops. You can buy fat balls, but it’s just as easy to make your own. It’s a good way to use up scraps and the odds and ends from your dry cupboard.
What you’ll need
Yogurt pots or pine cones (must be open)
Suet or lard or salt free peanut butter
Wild bird feed
Old grated cheese
Currants or sultanas
In a saucepan heat the suet or lard. If you’re using peanut butter instead you won’t need to heat it up. Mix your dry ingredients together in a bowl. You need a basic one-part fat to two parts dry mixture. Once the lard or suet is melted, mix everything together.
Now you have a choice of either spooning the ingredients into an old yogurt pot or a pine cone. If you use an old yogurt pot, single portion pots are best, make a hole in the bottom of the pot first and thread some string through so that the knotted end is on the outside of the pot and string is coming up through the pot. Now spoon in your mixture until it reaches the top. Leave the mixture in the fridge overnight to set. In the morning use a pair of scissors or a sharp knife to peel the pot away and you’ll have your own homemade fat cake.
If you are using a pine cone and this is much easier (and the pine cone can be endlessly recycled). Tie some string around the pointed end of the pine cone so that you can hang it from a tree. Make sure the knot is tight because it needs to take the weight of a bird landing on the pine cone. Then spoon the mixed ingredients into the spaces of the pine cones, it will be a bit messy, but don’t worry about that. Again leave them in the fridge overnight to set and then hang them outside. You may need to give the pine cones a bit of wash once the mixture has been eaten, but you can keep using the pine cone until it starts to fall apart, at which point you can put it on the compost heap. The laziest version of this is just to fill the pine cone with peanut butter; crunchy, salt free is best and the birds will enjoy it just as much as the seeded version.