Home   News   Article

Marcia O'Hara: How to keep your garden birds healthy – and give yourself a boost

By Contributor

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!

Making Space for Nature by Marcia O’Hara

Chaffinch. Picture: Marcia O’Hara
Chaffinch. Picture: Marcia O’Hara

The biting cold, frozen earth and driving rain makes the second month of the year a bleak one. February is a tough time for all of us and particularly for our garden birds, some of which will already be starting to think about nest building for the spring.

There is very little food available in February and it can be hard to access with extreme weather conditions.

You can give your local feathered friends a boost by putting out some food for them – this will also give them the extra energy they need to keep warm. This is a big issue for small birds, who have a larger surface area relative to their size and can lose heat very quickly.

Watching birds flock to the bird feeder is also a really enriching sight and can really help us feel connected to nature at what can feel a bleak time of year.

What to feed the birds

It’s best to provide a wide variety of different food types in your garden. Bird seed mix is a good place to start and will attract seed-eating birds such as starlings, sparrows and chaffinches.

Unsalted peanuts and fat balls are particularly energy rich and will be a favourite in the winter. If you’re lucky, peanuts may also attract great spotted woodpecker to your garden, a fairly common occurrence in the Highlands.

I was lucky enough to have a woodpecker visit my feeders one season but, alas, they have not visited again. They are a great sight on the birdfeeder, as they are not usually seen so close.

To cater to insect-eating species, like our friendly robin, you could put out mealworms. If you put some on the ground this will also attract blackbirds and maybe even some hedgehog attention (although not in February).

Birds will love any apples and berries you put out, or go one better and plant some fruit trees in your garden.

My neighbour’s garden backs up to our kitchen window and they have a lovely crab apple tree. This has attracted redwings and waxwings, winter visitors from the continent. They make the crossing over the North Sea for the fruits and berries left on Scottish trees, as the feeding isn’t so good in their home country. This treat can only be seen during the winter months in the UK – all from our kitchen window!

Keeping bird feeders healthy

It’s important that if you do intend to feed your local birds that you keep your bird feeding station healthy.

Wash your feeders regularly, every week if possible, with an animal safe disinfectant. If this seems like too much effort you could buy some extra bird feeders and have a rotational system, putting clean ones out and bringing down dirty ones to clean before the next change over.

Try not to let bird poo accumulate around your bird feeders as this is a big cause of transmission of diseases between birds. Keeping the feeders clean should protect your garden visitors.

Once you are all set up with your safe, clean and fully stocked bird feeding station, you can sit back with a cup of tea and get to know your garden birds.

HLH countryside ranger Marcia O’Hara.
HLH countryside ranger Marcia O’Hara.
  • Making Space for Nature is a monthly wildlife column with tips about how we can act to help to improve biodiversity in our communities. This month’s wildlife columnist, Marcia O’Hara, is High Life Highland countryside ranger for Easter Ross and south-east Sutherland.

For more information about your local bird species visit: www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/

For more information about High Life Highland’s countryside ranger service visit: www.highlifehighland.com/rangers/

  • Marcia studied Environmental Biology, landing her first ecological role at Aigas Field Centre near Beauly. She has also worked on many biodiversity projects including with the RSPB, with a focus on managing urban sites for biodiversity. Marcia has been a countryside ranger with High Life Highland for six years.

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More