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Robin in snow Ben Andrew

Don't throw away Christmas leftovers – they could feed garden birds. The RSPB offers advice for what can and can't be fed to our feathered friends.

The cold snap of winter means steaming roast dinners and hot cocoa are back on the menu – and you can share the festive celebrations with the birds outside your window!


Many of the foods we eat are also big hits with the birds, especially during the colder months when there are fewer natural food sources available and they need extra calories to stay warm.


Try sprinkling some of these festive leftovers on your bird table and see what turns up. Maybe your local robin, or a swirl of starlings? You may even be lucky enough to see a winter migrant bird such as a redwing sampling your offerings.


Cheese

Mild grated cheese is a classic hit with robins, dunnocks, blackbirds and song thrushes.


Unsalted bacon rind

Chopping it up means a lot of birds will be able to have a nibble. Magpies and crows are liable to fly off with the whole lump if not well-anchored! Make sure there's no salt in it as salt is toxic to birds.


Ripe or bruised apples and pears

Thrushes, tits, blackbirds and starlings are big fans.  


Pastry

Uncooked or cooked, either is good as long as it's made with real fats.


Dried fruit

Raisins, sultanas and currants are favourites with blackbirds, song thrushes and robins. Dried fruits can be dangerous to dogs and cats, so avoid offering these if you have pets in the area.

A festive feast

for birds

Starling Ben Andrew

Foods to avoid

Not everything we eat is good for birds, however. Here are some foods to avoid:


Anything with salt – salt is toxic to birds, so make sure to keep it off your bird table and don't put salt in your bird baths in an attempt to keep the water ice-free.


Cooking fat – leftover fat from your Sunday roast could smear onto birds' feathers and ruin their waterproofing and insulating qualities.


Cooked porridge oats – they are glutinous and can harden around a bird's beak.


Milk – birds can't digest milk so it can make them seriously ill.


Dried coconut – it can swell up in their stomach and make them sick.

Bird food to buy

As well as offering leftovers and kitchen scraps, feeders filled with nuts, seeds or suet will keep birds nourished during cold weather.


Sparrows, tits and finches will all visit feeders containing nuts, fat or seed mixtures. The insect-eaters, such as dunnocks, robins, starlings, and wrens, prefer mealworms, while suet-based products are an all-round crowd-pleaser with their high calories providing a boost for your birds through cold nights.


Water is key for birds too, both to drink and to clean their feathers so they're in tip-top condition to fly and keep themselves warm. Birds can find it harder to find fresh water in the winter, as ponds start to freeze – so they'll always appreciate a bird bath.

Blue tit Ben Andrew
Robin Ben Andrew

Even a dustbin lid with some stones at the bottom for grip will do the job! If you find the water keeps freezing, try floating a ping pong ball on the surface – the slightest gust of wind will keep the ball moving and stop the water turning to ice.


You can also help the birds in your neighbourhood by taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch. Every year for the past four decades the RSPB has asked people to look out of their window or head to their local park and record the birds they see over the course of an hour.


This helps the RSPB to keep track of how garden birds are faring, and last year a record-breaking one million people joined in.


You can take part on the 28, 29, or 30 January 2022. For your free Big Garden Birdwatch guide, which includes a RSPB shop voucher and advice on how to help you attract wildlife to your garden, text BIRD to 70030 or visit http://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.

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Little Green Space December 2021