Beak mid-winter

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Starling numbers have dropped dramatically in recent years.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Starling numbers have dropped dramatically in recent years.
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Winter can take a heavy toll on man and beast, with months of ice and snow, biting north-easterly winds and water and earth frozen hard turning everyday life into a battle against the elements.

Most people can wrap up warm or turn up the thermostat, but for animals and birds when the going gets tough they have to sit it out and hope for an early spring.

But a couple of severe winters can have a devastating effect on wildlife, with some species of garden birds facing the threat of being all but wiped out.

This is where we, the gardeners of Britain, can help by putting out food regularly – meal worms, seed, proprietary bird food, even bread if you must – and making sure there is always an unfrozen supply of fresh water available. (A note about feeding birds: The RSPB has warned that the mesh and netting that surrounds fat balls, peanuts and seed sold for bird food can, in fact, be a danger to birds by trapping them. The society is appealing to people to put such foods into safer, bird-friendly containers, and to write to manufacturers asking them to change the way they package such food.)

If possible, make your patch an even more welcoming port in the storm by leaving some seedheads standing and growing plants to provide shelter for the insects, animals and birds fighting for their lives.

Every winter, hundreds of thousands of the nation’s birds die. Just how hard their numbers have been affected in recent years is difficult to tell, but the RSPB’s 2015 Big Garden Birdwatch revealed that, although blackbirds, robins and wrens are doing well, song thrushes, greenfinches and starlings have taken a big hit.

The conservation charity was helped in its fact-finding by more than half-a-million people who spent an hour recording the avian visitors that landed in their gardens. If you fancy taking part in next year’s Big Garden Birdwatch, visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.

Britain’s birds have never needed our help as much as they do today, so don’t just spend one hour counting them – make your garden bird-friendly because you, and millions more gardeners throughout the country, could be the difference between life and death and saving a species or losing a species. Every little helps.