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Feed the birds

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 08 Jan 2010 at 12:45 PM

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has issued a statement in The Independent saying that the UK’s birds are facing an emergency as the freezing temperatures show no sign of rising yet and will soon start to take a toll. The bird’s natural food is covered with snow and much of the water they need is frozen, so if they’re going to make it till the weather warms up, they need help from us.

In Oxfordshire, we woke up on Wednesday to 15cm (6 inches) of snow which had blown into drifts 30cm (12 inches) deep. The bird’s water dish was both frozen and buried, as was the food I had put out the day before. I dug out the dish and refilled it only to find that the method I used to stop it freezing, of sinking the dish into a pot of dry compost, didn’t work any more and it froze over again within a couple of hours. Once surrounded by snow, however, it isn't freezing as quickly.


Water dish refilled, I refilled the hanging feeder, got out a shovel and started clearing some of the snow so I could put food down for the ground feeding birds. The snow had settled heavily on the garden bench, leaving a relatively clear space underneath, so I scattered wild bird seed and put down some fat balls and an apple that was going soft. Blackbirds, especially, love apple and will peck it to nothing in a short time. There is also some mild cheese in the fridge that can be grated up; it’s full of warming fat and will be much appreciated.

Within minutes of the food going down a gang of burly pigeons arrives and gets stuck in, followed by eight jackdaws. It’s the small birds that I’d been thinking of attracting, but at least the noise and commotion that the big birds make will alert the little ones to the food.

Not many turn up, which is a puzzle. Where are they? I turn to my friend and one time neighbour, John Davison, who has been watching birds for an extraordinary 74 years, to see what he has to say. He tells me that ‘most birds make for the hedgerows in chilly weather where the wind chill is less and there are berries to sustain them’. This being a fairly rural area, there are indeed a lot of hedgerows, with a lot of berries on them, so maybe that’s where the small birds have retreated to.


Hedgerows or not, putting out food and fresh water at least once a day is a must in this weather. The RSPB has excellent advice about what to offer and which birds you can attract. 


sue1002 said:

Since the snow started, the first birds to arrive here as soon as the bird food is put out, are the wood pigeons and they are very soon followed by the other birds.

on 08 Jan 2010 at 01:20 PM

David Benson said:

Excellent blog that should be more widely seen, as it will be of enormous interest to a lot of people at the moment. Even I, such a stranger to the garden, was wondering what I should be doing about the poor birdies. xx

on 08 Jan 2010 at 02:24 PM

BB said:

We have had Redwings in the garden today Miranda. I believe they are winter visitors - they have striped the berries on the Pyracantha!

on 08 Jan 2010 at 03:14 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Good to hear that your birds are being catered for!

How lovely, BB, I do like Redwings, even if they do strip the Pyracantha!

Hope you can find something good to feed to the birds, David - they will appreciate it, I'm sure!

on 08 Jan 2010 at 03:32 PM

EvaInNL said:

Great blog Miranda and as David said is very timely! I've just gone out on my balcony (-10 C and a very strong wind, brrrr) to put out more food and some fresh water for the birds.

They really love the bread crumbs and seeds soaked in tuna oil (left over from my lunch). If I don't have tuna oil I just use (fresh) sunflower oil. I'm guessing the birds can use all the fat they can get their little beaks on to cope with the cold. Just don't use leftover cooking oil (good advice form the RSPB)!

I also had a bit of smoked mackerel in the fridge: gone in about 15 minutes! Apples and cucumbers are a big hit as well, guess it's a way for them to get extra fluids in.

on 09 Jan 2010 at 08:51 AM

chris wood said:

Help Please  trying to feed the birds better my sister bought a larger covered bird table just before Christmas and the birds continually ingnore it. They are still using the small open table the new table has been moved to the other side of the patio, all sorts of things have been put on it but still no birds are coming to it.  Any ideas? cpw

on 09 Jan 2010 at 10:07 AM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thanks, Eva, and good for you for looking after the birds!  

on 09 Jan 2010 at 10:14 AM

Susiq said:

Excellent Blog Miranda. We've got throught nearly 5kg of bird seed in the last couple of weeks. Not to mention left over cake etc., One particular blackbird follows me all round the garden, he really is quite tame.

on 09 Jan 2010 at 12:30 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Hello Chris, you could move the tables closer together to start with and see if that helps. If they start using both, gradually move them further apart. Birds will be wary if food is in a more open place, because of the danger of sparrow hawks catching them, so you could also look at how much surrounding shelter there around your new table. I hope they start using it soon!

Susiq, isn't it lovely to be followed by a bird. I get that with robins and do enjoy it.

on 09 Jan 2010 at 01:51 PM

richardpeeej said:

Excellent write-up Miranda. I am the one that feeds the birds here with all sorts of bird seed, peanuts (red unsalted), crusts, fat pieces and bacon rind etc. My water bath keeps freezing over also and it needs sorting most days. I am sure that many people reading and acting your blog will save the lives of many birds this winter.

on 09 Jan 2010 at 02:48 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

That's good that you remembered the 'no salt' rule, Richard. Yes, I think a lot of people are feeding the birds this year who might not have done before!

on 09 Jan 2010 at 05:37 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

I've just spoken to my friend John Davison and he tells me that, in the north of England and in Scotland, people have started finding dead birds. They are mainly small song birds and will probably have died in the night.

on 11 Jan 2010 at 11:26 AM

Susiq said:

Awh no, thats awful Miranda. I'm trying SO hard to keep the birds fed and watered up here in our tiny spot in the North, but I guess with these extreme conditions its inevitable that various sorts of wildlife are really suffering badly. I guess the smallest of the birds would be the first to feel the effects.

on 14 Jan 2010 at 02:03 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

That's good of you, Susiq. Yes, it is inevitable, but you can't help feeling sad and wishing there was more you could do to help.

on 15 Jan 2010 at 01:28 PM