Friday, 25 January 2013

Feeding is for the birds.

Winter can be good for bird watching. As food gets scarce and daylight gets shorter. The birds have to keep busy topping up before it gets dark. However, when snow settles, the problems get even harder for the birds and it is time to help. When food is hard to find, the birds become a bit more bold. In the last few days we have had Bullfinch, Yellow Wagtail, Greenfinch, Blue tit, Great tit, Long-tailed tit, Dunnock, Robin, Chaffinch, Sparrow, Wren, Goldfinch, Blackbird and Mizzle Thrush. 

Fat Balls! No I'm not being personal or trying to be provocative. Fat balls and other fat-based bird food are excellent winter food. Plus they are a good source of food for almost all kinds of birds. You can purchase them in supermarkets and specialist stores. Wilkinson's  B&M, Lidl and Aldi all sell them in boxes of fifty. However, they are often contained inside small green bags made up of plastic netting. Before putting the fat balls out, please remove them from the green bags. I know that they are useful for hanging them from branches. However, birds are killed every year by becoming entangled in the netting. We have seen a box of fifty fat balls go in about four days.

Nuts! No once again I'm not trying to be provocative. The most popular one is peanuts but most kinds of nuts are good for birds. Peanuts are very popular with tits, finches, sparrows, nuthatches,  woodpeckers and siskins. Crushed or grated nuts are good for attracting robins, dunnocks and even wrens. Nuthatches and coal tits may try to hoard peanuts. Because of the hoarding and because peanuts can be high in a natural toxin, which can kill birds. Only buy from a reputable dealer to guarantee freedom from aflatoxin. Salted or dry roasted peanuts should never be fed to birds.

Seeds come in many different mixes and types. Some are intended for bird feeders. There are others that are intended for use on birdtables and some that are intended for ground feeding. The better mixtures contain a varied mixture with plenty of millet, wheat, oatmeal, flaked maize, sunflower seeds and peanut granules. Cooked rice, without salt added in the cooking process is beneficial and readily accepted by all species during severe winter weather.

Bread on its own is not a good choice as there can sometimes be additives in the bread that are not so good for birds. However, some bread mixed with other foods can be better than no food at all. So we prefer to cook the bread using some fat to make it a bit more wholesome. However, you must use the correct type of fat. Because used fat from cooking can often be bad for birds. Lard and beef suet on their own are fine as they are pure fat. Most butchers throw away suet as it is not as popular as it once was for cooking. Our butcher is happy for us to have some free suet in the winter months for feeding birds. 

The RSPB say "The problem with cooked fat is that the meat juices have blended with the fat and when allowed to set, this consistency makes it prone to smearing. Which is not good for birds' feathers. It is a breeding ground for bacteria, so potentially bad for birds' health. Salt levels also depend on what meat is used and if any salt has been added during cooking." 
"Polyunsaturated margarines or vegetable oils are unsuitable for birds. Unlike humans, birds need high levels of saturated fat, such as raw suet and lard. They need the high energy content to keep warm in the worst of the winter weather, since their body reserves are quickly used up, particularly on cold winter nights. The soft fats can easily be smeared onto the feathers, destroying the waterproofing and insulating qualities."


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