‘Where are our garden birds? feed regularly but carefully’

‘In recent weeks, the rain fell from the sky in buckets, and even a patch of snow. And what do we see in our garden? Few birds’, writes Gerald Driessens from Natuurpunt. “Here and there a robin, a tit or two and once in a while a chaffinch. But no blackheads, no nicks. What happens?’

Birds primarily come to the garden when it is difficult for them to get food in their natural biotope. And coming into the garden is a threshold for many birds, because most birds are naturally afraid of people. In addition, we see mild winters more often than before, also in the countries to the north of us. This means that birds no longer have to come all the way to us to get food.

Don’t panic

This is a direct and visible consequence of climate change, but in this case not necessarily bad for the birds in question, as they have to make fewer movements. It saves a lot of energy, and they don’t have to face all the dangers during the long journey, which is unknown to many (young) birds.

The hooded crow used to be a normal winter visitor in northern Flanders, but now it has almost become a vagrant with hardly a few sightings per year. Many specimens of common species that can be found in the garden all year round also come here from the north (or north-east): chaffinch, tall tit, blue tit, red tit, hedge sparrow, blackbird, greenfinch,… But this is also less and less the case for these species.

The amount of seeds produced by trees such as beech, birch, oak and elm also plays a role. Depending on that seed production, more birds begin to migrate and continue. But there are also lesser years, and this year was one of them.

Adequate food

Perhaps we as garden bird enthusiasts should also be a little happy: Many birds only come to the garden when they feel a certain kind of deprivation, because they have no choice. Few birds in the garden means (at least for some species) that they find enough natural food and that they are therefore doing well. After all, natural food remains healthier and more varied than the mass-produced (and non-organic) alternative we offer.

In harsh conditions, the food we offer can make the difference between life and death. A fixed and regular food supply provides good guarantees for the birds: they have to spend less time looking for food in the cold, and such a feeding party can make a difference, especially in the morning hours.

Nuthatch (photo: Michel Viskens)

How should we feed and is it necessary?

Definitely! But do it with care.
Do not spray large quantities during continuous rain as they will become wet. If seed is left too long, it will be picked up by different species. It increases the chance of spreading infectious diseases, such as Trichomonas. This is a parasitic disease that kills many in greenfinches and wood pigeons, among others.

Hygiene at the feeding place is therefore necessary. Remove old food that remains. Keep seeds and kernels dry by spreading them on a covered feed table. Give an extra apple, hang strings of peanuts and above all: avoid fat balls in mild temperatures and humid weather. They go crazy, can go moldy or even sprout.

Adapt to the weather

In the coming days it will stay fresh for a while and we can adjust our feeding behavior again. If the ground freezes, some species will have a harder time and you may recommend suet balls. If it stays dry, we can offer a few more seeds and kernels around the feed table. Don’t forget the insect food either, because with it you serve the species that don’t like grains and seeds. And the more varied the food in your garden, the more surprising the species appear. Later in the week the weather would become milder, but also wetter, the signal to spread more sparingly and regularly measured by consumption.

If you offer food daily, there is a much greater chance that you will collect a nice count during the Big Bird Weekend. An additional tip is that it is best to offer food at fixed times. Best when it gets light and again in the late afternoon before the light fades again. Birds also have a rhythm, and the resident birds in your garden learn this surprisingly quickly.

(Read more below the article.)

At the feeding table we now mainly see jackdaws, magpies, wood pigeons and starlings: they are less afraid of people, quickly become familiar with their environment and easily switch to other food. Furthermore, they live in groups and are stronger together. We may think it is a little too normal that these species are there, but they form a very important signaling function to other, more scarce species, because where there are many birds, it is good … and safer.

But at the same time, there are few winter birds on the feeding table, such as woodpeckers, while in some parts of the country they flock together in the hundreds. As garden bird enthusiasts, we only see a fragment of the whole story. Birds are very mobile, and a movement of several hundred kilometers is the most normal for many species.

Gerald Driessens is a bird expert at Natuurpunt Studie.

Do you also want to count the birds in your garden or on your balcony on January 28 and 29? All information can be found at www.vogelweekend.be.

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