Feeding birds and other animals in winter

Feeding birds and other animals in winter

The first image that springs to mind is a picture-book classic: children in the park throwing dry crusts of bread to the ducks, or hanging slices of apple and carrot from tree branches for the birds. Let’s now take a good look at what foods are best to leave out for our animal friends, foods that won’t just look nice but will be nutritious and not cause any problems for these beloved outdoor creatures.

Treats for ducks and swans

You’ve probably already heard that we shouldn’t actually be throwing bread or cake to the ducks that live in the village pond or in the river. They do find it tasty and will eat it, but it can seriously damage their health. The most highly recommended foods for water birds are specially designed pellets or soft grains (soaked, sprouting, or boiled). Frozen vegetables (such as sweetcorn) or torn salad leaves are also suitable. If you’re keen to make use of your kitchen scraps, you can chop up vegetable trimmings (carrot, parsnip, celeriac, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli leaves, …) into small pieces. Do remember, though, that ducks are used to being thrown bread scraps and it might take them a while to get used to these more healthy treats if they have been deprived of them. 

Feeder feasts

Watching little birds hopping about around a feeder is even better entertainment than watching a gripping film. There’s no need to wait until Christmas – it’s a good idea to start putting out bird feed in November and keep doing so right through to March. Besides a birdbath with clean water, the birds love sunflower seeds, oats, millet, wheat, and other grains. Some birds also like apples or rowan berries. The more varied the birdfeed is, the more varied your feathered visitors will be.

Do seeds and grains seem rather dull? Would you prefer to put out something from your own kitchen? Look in your cupboard for oat flakes, linseeds, poppy seeds, unsalted boiled rice or potatoes, grated carrot, suet, or a piece of raw meat. However, you should never give birds anything spicy, salted, fried, or rotten. Although apples are good for birds, biscuit crumbs and any foods that have been sweetened, definitely should not be part of their diet. 

If you want something simple, just buy a bag of whole sunflower seeds (with the shells on), or a prepared bird-seed mixture, and sprinkle these into your feeder. You can also buy suet balls, which birds love. Make sure you take them out of the netting, though, otherwise the birds’ claws could get caught in it, or they might accidentally eat bits of the plastic along with the bird food. Plastic nets can also be especially dangerous for other wild animals that might come across them, and for domestic animals like dogs and cats.

Venturing into the woods

A walk in the quiet, snow-covered woods is like a balm for the soul and can provide plenty of fun for all the family. Have you ever tried tracking animals by the footprints they've left in the snow or mud?

If you do head into the woods, think about taking a little snack with you, not just to keep you going but also for the animals who live there. Gamekeepers give the animals hay, oats, and fruit-based feed. At each feeding station you will also find rock salt. Deer, hare, and wild boar enjoy apples, pears, carrots, beetroot, and rowan berries. They also love dried chestnuts and acorns – but do make sure they are not mouldy. By the way, collecting chestnuts is quite a therapeutic autumn activity for us humans! 

You can also take bread for the woodland animals, but it must be completely dry, unsalted, and without added spices or other flavourings. It is best to only bring bread when the temperatures are below freezing – otherwise it will quickly become damp and can give the animals indigestion. 

This might all seem rather complicated, but you’ll soon realise that it’s pretty simple really. And the animals themselves won’t be the only ones to appreciate your efforts – it will please your children too! After all, it’s them you’ll be spending time with in the forest, and in the process they will learn plenty of new things and clear their heads of the stresses of school.

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