Wakelam's wilderness: In-flight refueling for our feathered friends

  • Published
  • By Judith Wakelam
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
With one of the heaviest snow falls, and some of the lowest temperatures on record, winter is well and truly upon us. Our feathered friends are facing their hardest time of the year now that the hedgerows of autumn, seen bursting with nature's fruits a short while ago are almost depleted, and birds are facing the lean months of winter.

Our summer visitors have departed for warmer climes and we are welcoming to our gardens, our winter visitors. Redwings and fieldfares from Scandinavia have been here since October. If really lucky we will see some of the visiting waxwings, reputed to be here in large numbers but at present proving elusive. Also from Scandinavia they are here to feed on berries; rowan, hawthorn, rosehips and cotoneaster.

Natures harvest will not last for much longer so, this is where we come in ... in a word, birdfeeders! My own garden displays a variety of them. Some contain peanuts, favored by the various tit species. Others contain mixed seeds for greenfinches, sparrows, chaffinches, hopefully, siskin's and anything else that cares to drop in. I also have a special feeder that holds tiny Niger seeds that entices brightly-colored gold-finches to the garden.

It's not necessary to be as "over the top" as I am. Just one bird-feeder in your garden will bring endless pleasure to those watching and can mean the difference between starvation and survival for birds during this very cold spell. Think for a moment what a difference one feeder in every garden could make.

As the winter progresses our resident and visiting blackbirds will have taken the last of the crab apples and will much appreciate an apple cut in half being put out for them, along with any other fruit and left-over scraps such as cake and bread. The familiar and much-loved European robin - much smaller than the American robin and often depicted on Christmas cards - will relish a few scraps and as a real treat some meal-worms. Robins become very tame if fed regularly.

Balls consisting of fat, fruit, seeds and insects are packed with energy and will be eagerly consumed by most birds, in particular noisy gregarious starlings. Both meal-worms and fat-balls can be bought at pet-shops and garden centers, but the latter are easily made if you leave out the insect part of the recipe. Making them is a task that can be undertaken by all the family and it's very rewarding to see your work consumed by hungry, appreciative birds.

Clean water is essential for birds in winter, not only to drink but to bath in. There's no need to buy an expensive bird-bath, a plant-pot saucer regularly topped-up with clean water will do the trick. Clean feathers help to keep a bird warm in winter. I also have several little bird roosts dotted among my garden shrubs; little woven pockets that give small birds protection from the coldest of nights.

I never cease to be amazed at how many different birds drop in over the course of a day. There's always a pair of binoculars on my kitchen windowsill which sometimes means doing the dishes can be a long job, with so many distractions.

I get endless pleasure from my garden visitors and a few birdfeeders are a small price to pay for the privilege of having so many feathered friends drop in.

For more information on how you can help garden birds contact the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds by clicking here.