22/07/2008
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Are your bird feeders empty?

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The British Trust for Ornithology says that feeding our garden birds now could help them through the winter. Scientific research has shown that feeding the birds during the summer months can have far-reaching benefits, one of which is a better chance of surviving the harsher winter months. By providing a reliable source of food now you will be giving young, inexperienced birds a great start in life, so that they will be in good shape when the weather turns colder.

Blue Tit
Blue Tit, Alderley Park, Cheshire (Photo: Sue Tranter)

The summer months can be a tough time for young birds, as they become independent of their parents. Finding a regular source of food is vitally important for these inexperienced youngsters, saving them some searching and foraging time. Putting food out in our gardens can make all the difference. Once a reliable source of food has been found it is visited again and again so it is important to continue feeding. During extremes in the weather this food source becomes even more important. Prolonged spells of wet, cool and windy weather can make invertebrate food such as caterpillars very difficult to find, and birds such as Blue and Great Tits will come in search of an alternative. Conversely during hot, dry weather, Blackbirds and Starlings find it difficult to find earthworms and grubs that live in the soil, as they burrow deeper underground; a supplementary food source can be vital for them.

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Starling
Starling, New Brighton, Cheshire (Photo: Richard Steel)

Hot weather can also make water difficult to find, as small pools and puddles begin to dry up. All birds need a daily supply of fresh, clean water, both for drinking and bathing. Bathing is particularly important, as it helps to keep the feathers in tip-top condition.

Paul Stancliffe, of the Garden BirdWatch Team at the British Trust for Ornithology, commented, "The benefits of feeding the birds during the winter months are obvious, but feeding them over the summer can be just as important. It is great to know that not only are we helping them now, we are also giving them a head start for the winter months. This could mean more birds surviving to go on to breed next spring and that has to be a good thing, not only for the birds, but also for garden birdwatchers."

Since 1995, the BTO have been monitoring birds in our gardens throughout the year through its Garden BirdWatch survey, and have a wealth of information on how and why birds use them. Using this knowledge they have put together a free leaflet about summer feeding. The leaflet outlines the different kinds of food that can be put out during the summer months and the different kinds of birds that will benefit. For a free copy of the summer feeding leaflet please telephone 01842 750050 and ask for the GBW team, or write to GBW, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU.

The BTO Garden BirdWatch is the only nationwide survey of garden birds to run weekly throughout the year, providing important information on how birds use gardens, and how this use changes over time. Currently, some 16,500 people take part in the project. The BTO Garden BirdWatch is funded by participants’ contributions and is the largest year-round survey of garden birds anywhere in the world. For more information see www.bto.org/gbw.
Written by: BTO