Winter is coming. Depending on whether you use the meteorological or astronomical definition, the season officially starts on December 1st or 21st respectively. Britain's birds, of course, pay attention to neither. The changing climate and reduced daylight is enough to tell them that the new season is drawing in.
It's at this time of year that birds need your help the most. Both food and water can be scarce during the winter months and giving your local birds a helping hand can prove the difference between life and death.
Why is winter such a tough time? For a start, natural food is significantly depleted. The majority of insects have died off or lie dormant, berries, acorns and seeds are buried underground, and the hard frozen ground makes it difficult to forage for worms and other food sources. Particularly cold weather also makes it hard for birds to find fresh water for drinking and bathing that isn't frozen over.
With access to food and water reduced, it becomes much more difficult for birds to maintain the necessary fat levels to survive the cold weather. According to the RSPB, the smallest species, such as Blue Tits, need to consume as much as 30 per cent of their body weight in food to sustain themselves over winter, which is no mean feat!
How to help
So, how can you go about helping birds this winter? The most important thing you can do is provide them with a source of food. It's advisable to feed birds all year round, as food shortages can occur at any time, but the chances of this happening in winter are much greater. Some of the best foods to leave out are fat balls and suet-based foods. These foods are extremely high in energy, making them a perfect source of sustenance. To support as high a variety of species as possible, put out a wide range of foods to ensure your garden caters for all feathered tastes!
You can provide water for drinking and bathing by filling a water dish with fresh water daily. If this is in danger of freezing, top it up with a small amount of warm water to boost the temperature. Never use antifreeze chemicals, as this could damage the health of any birds that drink the water.
You can also boost birds' winter survival efforts by providing them with warm places to shelter. Hedges, ivy and holly can provide good natural resting places, or you can invest in a nest box, which birds may used to get out of the cold, plus they may use it to raise young come the spring.
Throughout the natural world, winter is the toughest time of year. By doing your bit, you can help your local birds get through this period ready to enjoy the rewards of spring and summer.
Images from iStock