How to care for the birds in autumn
As the seasons slip silently and beautifully into autumn there’s a distinct change in the light, mood and atmosphere of the garden. It’s all change for the birds too as they start to migrate from the UK to warmer climes or arrive here from colder lands for the winter. Every season is a challenge for the birds, so if you enjoy their presence in the garden make sure you cater well for their needs.
The autumn garden is often rich in the berries, fruit and insects that form the natural diet of many birds. With a good range of berry bearing plants in the garden, you will be treated to branches not just laden with ripening fruit, but a range of birds attracted to this copious food source.
Autumn is a great time to plant a variety of garden plants to support the birds. There’s’ a huge range of trees and shrubs that will provide vital food and shelter throughout the autumn and winter for the birds and look great too. Plant crab apples, rowans, cotoneasters, pyracantha and other good food plants for birds. Plant mixed hedging plants as a garden boundary instead of fencing and be sure to provide a constant supply of quality food and water. Choose food that imitates their natural diet for the very best results.
Is your garden lacking a little bird activity at the moment? Remember that many birds are leaving for warmer shores as we speak. Others are in their final throes of moulting and while losing their feathers is a complicated process, growing them back is also a slow, energy demanding procedure too. Moulting can leave them a little depleted and under par, so a little TLC in the form of good food, will help boost them up and provide some of the essential nutrients that they need.
If you are passionate about birds then choose to feed them a specially formulated mix designed to not only provide a rich and varied diet for a range of bird species, but one that keeps them coming back for more.
Our Peckish Wild Bird Food range is designed to supplement the natural food available in your garden. Birds spend almost all of the daylight hours (98%) foraging for food and can suffer protein deficiencies if food becomes unavailable to them for any reason. It’s essential for their survival to keep their energy levels high.
Comings and Goings
Autumn is a busy time for many birds as they move to their winter homes. Birds migrate in their millions every autumn from cooler northern climes to more southerly wintering grounds. It’s a slow process, usually dictated by the weather, which starts as early as July and August for some species and continues through to October and November for others. The traffic is not one way, while some of our garden birds ‘up sticks’ and move south, others arrive in their wake seeking the shelter of the British Isles for their winter sojourn.
Summer visitors such as cuckoos, swifts, house martins, and swallows will gradually leave Britain generally flying south, for warmer winters as far away as Africa.
In their stead come the winter visitors, swans and geese, redwings, waxwings, bramblings and fieldfares, arriving on our shores to escape the colder weather. Topsy turvy weather can bring some surprising species on a freak wind, creating great excitement for twitchers and bird enthusiasts. Some species will stay and others are just passing through using our gardens, fields and hedges as shelter and food sources to sustain them on their journeys. Keep them well fed with a range of quality food offered in feeders and on bird tables to ensure good accessibility for all their needs.
Birds often roost in trees and hedges to give them protection from predators, but they also use empty nest boxes and roosting pouches to insulate themselves from the cold and provide shelter from the rain. Make sure your garden has plenty of dense hedges, shrubs and trees where your feathered friends can overnight in safety. Walls, trellis and even trees clothed in ivy and climbers give good leafy cover for some species, while other birds prefer to roost en masse in boxes to preserve their body warmth.
Some birds will share their body heat and shelter overnight in small flocks inside a roosting box. Wrens in particular are known to pile in on top of each other to endure cold winter nights; the most recorded was 62 in one site. Nuthatches have a similar roosting pattern, jamming themselves together in cracks and crevices in the trees to preserve their warmth. While nest boxes can and do provide shelter for many solitary birds, a dedicated roost box is better designed for the purpose and usually fitted with special perches and internal walls featuring places for birds to cling and hang in comfort.
With nesting season a thing of the past, autumn is the perfect time to clean out the bird boxes, repair any damage and get them ready for spring. Even boxes that haven’t supported a brood need a check over to ensure they are in good condition. Open them up, clear out any debris carefully and use a special cleaner/disinfectant for wildlife to clean into the cracks and crevices.
Get the box ready for early spring nests now, it allows time for the box to be accepted by the birds and can also be used for roosting by many garden bird species. Mend any damage, seal cracks and oil hinges. Line the box with fresh, dry moss or dried, autumn leaves and put them back up ready for spring. Be sure to face the entrance away from the prevailing wind and fit metal guards to the entrance holes to prevent predators from gnawing the wood to gain access. Angle the box slightly so that any rainwater falls away, rather than into the nesting area.
Don’t neglect to provide your garden birds with a fresh, clean source of drinking and bathing water. Even in cold, icy conditions, birds need to drink and bathe. A birdbath is a good choice, replenish the water daily especially in freezing weather, or provide a water drinker that hangs with your feeders.
Keep your birdbath and drinkers hygienically clean using a dedicated wildlife disinfectant to prevent the spread of bacteria and disease. Position your water source in a safe, open spot so that predators can’t prey on the birds while they are drinking and bathing. Provide several watering places at different levels to cater for a wide variety of bird species and their varying needs. Make sure you can view them from a window of the house and then stand back and enjoy the spectacle, it’s better than a soap opera and a great way to lift the spirits.