Our Patch: Feed the Birds

By on Tuesday, January 14, 2014

our_patch_sj_jarmanWinter can be a fantastic time to encounter wildlife at close quarters by inviting it into our gardens.


The hard ground makes it difficult for birds such as blackbirds and starlings to probe the soil for worms and leatherjackets. There are few flying insects for blackcaps or stonechats to catch, and most edible seed and berry supplies are running low.

We can very easily encourage birds with little or no cost and, as a result, get excellent views. We tend to feed bread to birds, although it’s not very good for them, but seeds and dried fruits can be very inexpensive and can attract all sort of visitors.


Small pieces of cheese, bruised apples or pears, squishy grapes, scraps of meat fat or trimmings (bacon fat should be raw), and nuts (unsalted) are all good sources of protein, carbohydrate or fat to help them over winter.

Please remember that if you have a dog, vine fruits are toxic to them and should be kept out of their reach.

You can, of course, buy read- prepared foods and feeders without breaking the bank, but it can be fun to make them yourself; children particularly enjoy making food which they can then watch being eaten.


Some of our favourite recipes include suet with nuts, seeds or fruit, stuffed into half a coconut shell or an empty yoghurt pot with a string attached. The same mixture can be formed in a ball around a string, and monkey nuts can be threaded onto string or bacon fat cut in a long piece tied to a branch on a string for the smaller birds to hang on.

If you do not want to encourage rats or mice, it’s worth considering a bird table or other off-ground feeders to keep the food out of reach, because all animals are partial to a free meal, whether it was them we intended to feed or not!


If you haven’t fed the birds before, it may take them a couple of days to notice you’ve put food out, but they will come. If squirrels live nearby, you may well see them attracted to your feeders, too.

This can even become a problem for some people in that squirrels can eat all of the food, before the birds can get a chance, hence the evolution of squirrel-proof feeders.

I have noticed this year that as yet we haven’t had lots of the regulars we would normally expect,birds_5 and I think it’s the milder weather we’re experiencing so far that is causing this. (Sitting here with the heating and a thick jumper on, wondering if a second pair of socks is overkill, I’m finding it difficult to believe I just wrote that).

We haven’t had a hard frost yet, and water is still liquid – even when it’s freezing, it’s thawing very quickly – and there are still flying insects around. When I’m walking in the woods there are large groups of our ‘garden’ birds (blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, goldfinches, etc), and they still seem to have ample food to keep them out of gardens.

Big Garden Birdwatch

rspb_big_garden_birdwatchIt is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch in a fortnight (25—26 January). It will be interesting to see the results. I think in Prescot we have had a fairly good year for one of our garden species – sparrows. If I’m right, this is fantastic, as they are really in decline (63% in the last 35 years), and any increase in their population can only be good news.

I’m sure many readers will remember when sparrows were incredibly common, whereas now it’s a treat to spot them.

These mass surveys with public participation are a fantastic resource for the scientific community. The results would be impossible to recreate without help from amateurs like us, and so are very important – if you can spare an hour, I really urge you to take part

If you have children in the family, encourage them to take part too. They can learn a lot in one hour of watching nature, without the distractions of television, computers or games consoles.

Find out more at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.


SJ, also known as Sarah and Sarah-Jane, held her dream job as a breastfeeding peer support worker until becoming a full-time mum of three. She still volunteers at Whiston Hospital.

In her spare time, SJ loves to read, and play cello with the Knowsley Youth Orchestra. She confesses to being a secret singer ever since hubby Trev bought her SingStar.


  1. Simon O'Donoghue

    Sunday, January 19, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    I didn’t realise that ‘vinefruits’ could harm dogs!! Do you mean stuff like tomatos and strawberries etc??

  2. SJ Jarman

    Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    Hi Simon,
    I was referring to vine fruits as in grapes – sultanas raisins etc. Onions also can kill dogs as well as chocolate and macadamia nuts. I think its a bit of a lottery too, a friend’s dog stole and ate a full Christmas cake and was fine, yet some dogs can die having ingested very small amounts. Strawberries are fine, and although tomatoes are part of the nightshade family (so I wouldn’t recommend feeding the leaves/vines)I don’t think you could ingest enough of the fruits to cause a problem.

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