THEY are as important to the wildlife garden as butter is to bread, not only providing interest to budding birdwatchers, but helping to keep unwanted pests such as slugs and snails under control.
As their natural habitat continues to disappear, it is more important than ever to feed the birds during the winter months.
“In some cases keeping feeders topped up can mean the difference between life and death, especially for some of the smaller birds who lose heat from their bodies extremely quickly when it’s really cold,” says Gemma Rogers, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
But there are so many different feeders and seed types on the market, it’s difficult to know which are the best.
“There are a lot of nasty feeders out there which can trap beaks and feet,” says Rogers, “so you need to go to a reputable supplier. And be aware that some feeders are ridiculously cheap for a reason.”
Never put out the nylon mesh bags containing fat as birds can become trapped in them. Go for steel mesh feeders and provide a mix of seeds to attract different birds.
Birds require high energy, high fat foods during the cold winter weather to maintain their body reserves to survive the frosty nights.
Finches are especially grateful for seeds in late winter and early spring.
Peanuts will attract blue tits, great tits, woodpeckers and even robins if you crush the peanuts, niger seeds will encourage finches and siskins, but the more variety of food you have, the larger the range of birds you are likely to attract.
Small flocks of greenfinches can be a common sight at bird tables, sometimes queuing up with chaffinches and sparrows to take a turn at feeders.
Use bird tables to attract larger birds such as collared doves, wood pigeons and starlings.
There are also many plants you can grow to encourage birds to visit. Traditional countryside hedges are now full of blackberries, elderberries, rosehips, haws and sloes on which the birds can feed, and you can mimic the classic hedgerow in your garden by planting a fruiting hedge.
The RSPB advises gardeners to mix rugosa roses, elder and hawthorn to act as a wild foodstore, even adding a gooseberry or bramble if there’s room. If you have a large garden, try growing hazel (Corylus avellana) for its nuts and attractive catkins.