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How to help birds in winter

Cold snap prompts France’s Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux to offer simple advice to help birds survive

WINTER has bitten in several areas of France this weekend - prompting the Ligue pour la protection des oiseaux (LPO) to remind bird lovers that our feathered friends will be struggling in the snow and cold.

The weekend’s cold snap means birds need more energy just to keep warm and the short days leave less time to find food.

It has suggested a variety of ways in which people can help birds this winter: by putting out food, drink, or bathing water, installing shelters or making sure the vegetation is attractive and helpful to different species.

Birds - and other small animals - need water, as much to drink as to wash themselves in. A small, shallow dish full of lukewarm water on a wall or a window ledge will be much appreciated - but check it regularly to ensure that it has not frozen.

But if you do put out food, the LPO warned that it’s important to make sure that it’s suitable for the birds that visit your garden. Blackbirds and thrushes love ripe fruit; sparrows and turtledoves, prefer millet grains while nuthatches will eat big sunflower seeds.

It is possible, the LPO says, to make fatballs that are a feast for birds by mixing margarine with various seeds and coarsely ground eggshells. Unsalted nuts will have birds flocking to your garden - but avoid salted or dry roasted as these are dangerous - as is milk, cookies and fresh bread.

Dried fruit and fresh fruit pieces like apples or pears are also popular with birds such as blackbirds and thrushes, but dog owners should be aware that grapes, currants, raisins or sultanas can be toxic for their beloved pets.

To keep food for birds away from predators install them on feeding tables or hanging feeders at least 1.5m above ground. Keep both the feeders and surrounding area clean to avoid any risk of disease through the build-up of bird droppings. Avoid leaving food on the floor, also, as it can attract rats.

Most importantly, do not stop putting out food for birds until the warmer weather returns in March or April. Birds will get used to visiting the same place for a regular supply of food. If it stops suddenly in winter, it could prove fatal.

If you want to build a habitat that will support wildlife in the longer term, plan your garden accordingly. Birds will particularly appreciate the following: holly, mountain ash, hazelnut, oak, apple, cherry , ivy, alder, spruce, hawthorn, elder and any trees or bushes that produce berries.

Photo: wplynn

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