We come across a lot of people here at CJ Wildlife who love to feed the birds in their gardens, which is really excellent for our native bird populations. While year round feeding is highly recommended, it is clear that many people tend to stock up on food for their feathered friends at the start of winter, when the weather has already begun to decline.
If you do this too, then we'd like to suggest starting a little earlier this year and putting seed outside during what's left of the autumn. There are several reasons for this, which we'll outline below.
Birds need to know you're there
If you wait until hard frosts and snow to offer food, the birds might not even realise it's there. That's because they're out doing their scouting now in order to find out where they can achieve a quick seed payoff when it's really vital.
When it's already really cold, they won't waste vital energy seeking out new feeders - they'll go where they know. So if you can attract birds in the autumn, the chances are they'll return all winter.
Extra nutrients are essential
A common myth is that birds don't need our help at this time of year because they're busy eating berries and fruits that are still weighing down the branches of trees and bushes. Although it's true that you might see them a little less during a good harvest, that doesn't mean they don't need their diet supplementing with high-energy foods for the cold weather ahead.
Food shortages can happen at this time of year too
Everyone realises that insects and seeds will be scarce when the ground is frozen and trees have lost all their leaves, but natural food shortages can happen in late autumn too. All it takes is a fierce storm for birds to find themselves lacking things to eat. For instance, torrential rain can cause berries to drop off and rot on the ground, so garden visitors will need these nutrients replacing.
You'll help migrant birds
It's not only our native species that need our help when it comes to fattening up - migrant visitors like a bit of assistance too. Whether they're staying for the winter or are only on a 'flying visit', they'll want to build up their fat reserves to replenish the energy they spent getting here, so will be glad of some extra seeds and nuts.
Top five tips for autumn (and winter) bird feeding:
1. Use high-oil, high-calorie feed - a mixture of different types tailored to various species will offer the most chance of success. Food like sunflower seeds, peanut and fat or suet will ensure birds have plenty of energy to survive cold nights and bad weather.
3. Keep feeders clean and free of debris - heavy rain can seep into feeders and rot the seed, so empty any leftovers and dry containers out regularly. Get rid of any leaves and other detritus that can cause bacterial growth, too.
4. Don't let feeders stay empty for long - it's tempting to want to avoid going outside when the weather's really awful, but get into the habit of popping to your seed feeders and refilling them so they're never empty. Birds will start using other gardens if they think yours might be out of action.
5. Add fresh water too - a supply of clean water is essential, so we'd recommend placing a bird bath somewhere close to your feeders and making sure it stays unfrozen and leaf-free over the coming weeks.
With the help of this advice, your garden should become a bird haven for the final part of the autumn - and remain so as we move into winter, whatever the season throws at us.