Fuelling up our feathered friends - The Heart of England Forest


Life can get tough for birds in winter as their food supplies becoming increasingly scarce. Birds, such as blue tit, robin and fieldfare, who have an insectivorous diet in the summer months, can find their insect prey few and far between. During the colder weather many birds turn to seeds, fruit and berries, and these offer an important lifeline.

Here at the Heart of England Forest we endeavour to mix plenty of trees that produce berries and blossom into our planting plans, including guelder rose and hawthorn, providing a veritable ‘bird buffet’ during the winter months! Of course, there are a number of other trees and plants that add to the menu, too.

Winter is when holly and ivy produce their berries; fieldfares and redwings feast on these, as well as berries from rowan trees and guelder rose, whilst robins love spindle berries. Teasels, standing proudly along woodland rides throughout the Forest, are a great source of seeds for birds such as goldfinches.

How to ‘do your bit’

Whilst the cold seasons are most testing for them, it’s important that birds have food available all year round. Extra food, such as sunflower seeds, soft fruit or mild grated cheese, on garden bird tables during the breeding season can help ensure young chicks survive. By simply leaving a corner of the garden to run wild, plants like nettles attract more insects and are a magnet for hungry birds. Another way to help during the colder months is to delay pruning herbaceous or berry-bearing garden plants until late winter to allow seed-loving birds to have their fill.

In winter, birds need high energy, fatty foods to maintain their fat reserves to help them survive the frosty nights. If the temperature is regularly below freezing, it is essential to offer birds a supply of unfrozen water, too, and to keep to a regular feeding routine.

Let them eat (fat) cake

A great way to help the birds during winter is to string up a fat cake. The kids will love getting involved and it will bring the added pleasure of attracting a variety of famished feeders to the garden for everyone to spot:

Simply mix together small chunks of lard or suet in a bowl with dry ingredients such as wild bird seed, soaked currants, sultanas or oatmeal. Make a hole in a used yoghurt pot and thread string or twine through to tie it up, spoon in the mixture and allow it to set overnight in the fridge. The next morning cut away the yoghurt pot to reveal your fat cake, which can be strung up from a suitable tree or shrub near the kitchen window – soon the birds will be tucking in heartily!

For full details of this recipe, and other ways you can help wildlife in winter, check out Issue 6 of the Heart of England Forest supporters’ magazine. If you don’t already have our magazine then why not become a Friend of the Forest today and receive your free copy, and at the same time help to grow the Forest for our woodland birds and other wildlife.


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