Feed the birds day

Today is RSPB Feed the Birds Day. If you want to attract birds to the garden, you need to provide the essentials for survival: food, water and shelter.

Today is RSPB Feed the Birds Day.

If you want to attract birds to the garden, you need to provide the essentials for survival: food, water and shelter. To find out more, why not get involved in our new survey called Homes for Wildlife? We're looking for volunteers to create suitable places for birds and other wildlife to live in our gardens, and to report the findings. To register for the survey and receive your Homes for Wildlife pack, go to www.rspb.org.uk/hfw.

Good hygiene around garden bird feeders will reduce the risk of disease. You should scrub your feeders regularly, using hot soapy water and a diluted disinfectant. Throw away stale and mouldy food and remove large piles of discarded husks. Ideally, move your feeders to different parts of the garden to further reduce the risk of spreading disease. If you see sick birds, please report them to the RSPB's HQ (see address below), or via the RSPB website.

There are many types of seed mix, which should be fed using special feeders. However, if your seed mix contains a lot of wheat, it is not suitable for feeders and should be scattered on the ground or a bird table. The best mixes are sunflower based, and many have the husks removed. Peanuts must be fed from a metal mesh feeder. There are special offers on some bird food at Minsmere until Wednesday.

Kitchen scraps are excellent, but avoid any food that is mouldy or very salty. Also, clear away any excess scraps at dusk, as these are likely to attract unwelcome visitors, such as foxes, rats or cats.

Feeders and bird tables should be placed close enough to cover for birds to feel safe, but not so close that cats and other predators can hide in the bushes. If you want to deter grey squirrels or bigger birds, such as pigeons or crows, try using a cage-type feeder.

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There's lots more information on feeding garden birds on the RSPB website, at www.rspb.org.uk/feedthebirds.

You can also help your garden birds by joining the RSPB, helping us to protect the habitats in which they live. So as the clocks change this weekend, will you find more time to help your garden birds?

· Tits. Blue tits and great tits are easily attracted to seed or peanut feeders. Coat tits are regular visitors to many gardens. They prefer to grab a seed and fly off to eat it in safety or stash it for later. This is a survival technique in case of cold weather, but also reduces competition from their bigger cousins. Long-tailed tits may visit in a family party. Peanuts and fat balls are their favourites.

· Finches. Greenfinches are regular on seed and peanut feeders, while chaffinches prefer to feed on the ground. Goldfinches add a splash of colour to many gardens. They love sunflower hearts. Try buying nyjer seed, which is a fine, thistle-like seed that should be fed from a special feeder with tiny holes. Goldfinches' beaks are ideal for extracting them. Better still, leave some seed heads on lavender and watch the goldfinches carefully removing the seeds. Later in the winter, you might be lucky enough to see siskins on the feeders. Another winter visitor is the brambling, which is easily overlooked in chaffinch flocks.

· Sparrows. Although they've disappeared from many areas, house sparrows are still common in some gardens. They will use feeders, but prefer to search for seeds and scraps on the ground. If you have house sparrows locally, try putting up a sparrow nesting terrace to encourage them to stay.

· Starlings. My personal favourite. They are in decline, so welcome them and enjoy watching them scrapping over food or splashing about in the birdbath, when their feathers positively sparkle in the sun. Better still are the large flocks that gather over many town centres, including Ipswich, before settling to roost in a clump of tall trees. Starlings will take most foods, including kitchen scraps, fruit and seeds.

· Thrushes. Blackbirds are found in most gardens. Song thrushes are increasingly scarce, and the larger mistle thrush prefers bigger gardens with a few mature trees. You may attract a flock of redwings or fieldfares in winter, especially in more rural locations. Thrushes prefer fruit, such as windfall apples. Why not ask your greengrocer for any part rotten apples to attract more thrushes? Alternatively, plant a few berry bushes, but don't prune them until the berries have been eaten! Thrushes will also search through the fallen leaves for earthworms, slugs and other insects. Thrushes do not use feeders.

· Robins, wrens and dunnocks. These birds are generally shy and prefer to find live food close to cover. They are also the birds most likely to be singing through the winter. You can attract them with grated cheese or chopped bacon rind scattered under the hedge, but better still, why not tempt them with some mealworms? These can be bought either live or dried. Mealworms are brilliant to put out in the spring to help many species rear their chicks.

· Woodpeckers. Great spotted woodpeckers are increasingly common visitors to peanut feeders and fat balls. Lesser spotted woodpeckers are rare garden birds. Green woodpeckers are unlikely to visit feeders, but will come to gardens with large lawns, in search of ants. They can sometimes be tempted by fallen apples, and are regular in orchards.

(Booking essential. All events at Minsmere unless stated, tel: 01728 648281)

· October 28, November 3, 11 and 17 at 9.30am: Weekend wildlife walk

· October 29, November 6, 14 and 22 at 10am: Discovering Minsmere

· November 1 at 7.30pm: Great bustard worldwide and UK - talk by Dr Bill Jordan to RSPB Woodbridge Local Group at Woodbridge Community Hall (01728 723155 for details)

· November 2 at 11am: RSPB walk at Snape Maltings Farmers Market

· November 8 and 20 at 10am: Birdwatching for beginners

· November 8 at 7.30pm: Wildlife and Wrecks of the Dover Strait - talk by David Featherbee to RSPB Ipswich Local Group at Sidegate Lane Primary School, Ipswich (01473 423213 for details)

· November 10 at 7am: What's About at Minsmere

· November 17 at 10am: Avocet river trip from Orford Quay (book via Minsmere)

· November 18, 1.30 pm - 3.30 pm: Aren't Birds Brilliant at Mistley Walls (free event, contact 01473 328006 for details)


The RSPB, UK headquarters, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL. Tel: 01767 680551. E-mail enquiries@rspb.org.uk

RSPB Minsmere nature reserve, Westleton, Saxmundham, Suffolk IP17 3BY. Tel: 01728 648281. E-mail minsmere@rspb.org.uk

Weblink: www.rspb.org.uk