Help our feathered friends but no need to shell out too much

Watch out for the birds, hedgehogs and butterflies in your garden, writes Kate Humble.

October seems to have come very quickly this year after the rush of the Olympics and the wet start to summer in June. The main activity for wildlife this month is preparing for the winter, and there is a rush to organise themselves for the cold months ahead.

All the young birds have flown the nest and the summer migrants have headed home, so look to give your bird boxes a good clean-out. Hot water is the best cleaner, as insecticides and flea powders could harm birds.

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If you haven’t been feeding your feathered friends all year round, then the weather beginning to cool is the signal to start putting out food for the birds, who’ll need a lot of energy to get through winter. But there’s no need to always buy “ready-made” meals for your garden visitors. If you have the time and inclination it’s very easy to make your own fat balls out of lard or suet and “serve” them in coconut shells. For recipes and information visit www.rspb.org.uk

As well as the supplementary food you provide, some lucky birds, like blackbirds, will be able to feast on the berries on shrubs in your garden. With this in mind, let the seed heads remain on flowers such as alliums and honesty, or even weeds such as teasels and thistles – garden wildlife will be very grateful for the extra provisions.

October is the prime time to marvel at the incredible change of colour in the leaves, from the summer green to the vivid reds, both in the garden and on the roadsides. The fallen leaves littering the lawn can be raked up into a leaf pile, creating a welcome home for a hedgehog over the winter. Talking of hedgehogs, watch out for a final burst of energy from them as they start their final forage for slugs and beetles before hibernating. Jays are more common around now as they too forage, this time for acorns and beech masts to be put into winter storage.

Hopefully we’ll experience one last bit of warm weather this month. If so, be sure you get outside to enjoy the last of the butterflies, such as the red admiral or the small tortoiseshell.

There are so many cheap and easy ways we can turn our gardens into wildlife havens, whatever the size, through clever planting and space use. The RSPB Homes for Wildlife campaign gives out helpful tailored advice, ideas and support. They also have more ideas for feeding birds, including recipes for homemade feed and lists of plants that produce the best berries for birds. Check out the website at www.rspb.org.uk/hfw