Garden Birds facing food shortage after dry start to autumn


The unusually dry September experienced in many parts of the country may be causing trouble for our garden birds this winter, according to the RSPB. The dry weather has produced a bumper crop of berries, providing one great food source for garden birds. But the accompanying parched, hard earth has forced worms and other grubs deep under ground, making them inaccessible to most species. And as earthworms are a major source of food for Blackbirds in suburban areas, this shortage could force them to go without, leaving them less prepared for the onset of the cold winter weather.

Blackbird, Woodley, Greater Manchester (Photo: Steve Oakes, AEBS Limited)

Other species, such as Song Thrushes — already a ‘red list’ species — are also vulnerable to drought-like conditions. Typically they feast on slugs and snails: creatures that literally go to ground when the weather dries up. After a prolonged decline (down 49% between 1990 and 2007), there is already some evidence that song thrushes are recovering more quickly in the wetter west of the UK than the drier east.

In response, the wildlife charity is encouraging people to get out into their gardens and give birds a hand. To celebrate its annual Feed The Birds Day, which takes place as the clocks go back this weekend, the wildlife charity has produced five tips for creating a natural haven for wildlife in your garden:

  • Create a water feature such as a pond or bog garden. Much wildlife relies on a regular supply of fresh water.
  • Make a log pile. It will be the ideal place for insects, fungi, mosses and lichens.
  • Plant native plants such as hawthorn, ivy and honeysuckle. They will provide berries in the winter for adult birds, and insects for young birds in spring.
  • Buy or build an insect home. Insects that spend the winter in these will be a valuable food source for young birds in spring.
  • Give wildlife a home! Nest boxes for birds such as house sparrows should be put up now, while winter hibernation places for hedgehogs, and roosting boxes for bats will all create valuable space for nature.

Song Thrush
Song Thrush, Hethersett, Norfolk (Photo: Nigel Pye)

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Richard Bashford, the RSPB’s Feed the Birds Day Manager, said: “If you’ve got the time and the space to make your garden more wildlife friendly, that’s great. But simply hanging out a feeder or splitting over-ripe apples on your lawn will have the visiting wildlife thanking you. That’s especially true in years like this, when some natural food sources run scarce. At times like this, our gardens become more important for both resident and visiting birds.

Richard continued: “Most garden birds can feed on bugs, berries and seeds. But feeding up is a priority for them as they prepare for the coming colder months, and if they only have a limited source of food to rely on, then the competition really hots up. If we don’t experience a bit of a downpour — and soon — the race will be on to get to the last of this year’s berries before the frosts really set in. That’s where we can help out — so get out and give your garden wildlife a hand.”

Chris Packham, RSPB Vice President and BBC Autumnwatch presenter, said: “What I love about feeding birds is you can see the good you are doing. The way the birds will just pile into your garden looking for food tells you how important it is to them. It makes me feel good about myself, knowing I could be helping a bird survive the winter and go on to raise chicks next year. It is a nice feeling. I recommend it.”

Through its Homes for Wildlife scheme, the RSPB has already helped create over 4,500 water features in gardens across the country in the last two years. The scheme offers free wildlife gardening advice to those that sign up via www.rspb.org.uk/hfw. The RSPB is holding over a hundred Feed The Birds Day events during the weekend of 24th/25th October. There will be family fun events all over the UK with activities such as bird cake making, nest box building, nature trails and face painting. More information is available at www.rspb.org.uk/feedthebirds.

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Written by: RSPB