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Winter visitors to your garden

When the days get shorter and winter sets in, everyone looks forward to a nice warm house. But what do our small animal friends do once they can no longer find shelter in the tops of trees and in dense shrubbery in our garden? Many of them hibernate at this time of year, but others still have to find enough food and a suitable hiding place.

So why not make life a little easier for squirrels and birds during the winter? There are simple, uncomplicated ways of doing this. Hanging up bird feeders and erecting bird boxes helps the many birds which don't fly south to survive the winter easily.

However, opinions about bird boxes vary considerably. Winter is considered to be a part of natural selection. Weaker and sick creatures would normally die, so the intervention of humans may lead to an overpopulation of more prevalent species. Such species then have a competitive advantage over migratory birds and challenge their right to their habitat in the spring. However, the food supply for birds has reduced greatly in recent years since the use of pesticides has resulted in fewer insects for them to feed on. For this reason, moderate feeding is recommended in winter and can be considered to be a contribution towards maintaining the diversity of species.

The right place for a bird box

Once you have decided to feed birds in the winter, a few questions will come to mind. For example, what's the best place to put a bird box? There are several options: You can place a bird box in the garden itself, fix it to a tree, or attach it to the wall of your house. If you want to put a bird box on a tree, you should make sure that it is not on the side exposed to the weather so that it is protected from poor weather conditions and rain. Since birds are not troubled by close contact with people as long as they are left in peace, a bird box can also be fixed to the wall of your house overlooking a patio or balcony. Cat owners: If you have an upright bird table and want to place it on your lawn, ensure that it is positioned next to bushes or shrubs so that in the event of a moggy attack the bird can quickly find refuge in their branches.

What food is best?

Not all food is suitable for feeding birds in the winter. Naturally, only food that is appropriate for the species in question should be provided, and the chosen food should give the birds all the nutrients they need. Different birds prefer different types of food depending on the type of beak they have. A distinction is made here between birds which prefer soft food and those which prefer grain. However, since you should meet the needs of all domestic songbirds in a bird box, you should offer both soft food and grain. The birds will take the food which is most suitable for their beak.

Soft food consists primarily of berries, pieces of fruit, oats and raisins. When it comes to grain, you can supply sunflower seeds, millet, nuts or pumpkin seeds. Adding some fatty food is also recommended. You can buy this in the form of suet balls or rings or make it yourself by adding lard or oil to cereal. It is best to put food out early in the morning or in the late afternoon so that the animals can make up for their energy consumption during the night.

If there is a covering of snow and a permanent ground frost, you should continue to put out food until the end of March. To prevent birds from infecting each other with disease, they should not be able to stand on the feeding area itself. You can ensure this by providing a small perch, for example. This allows them to pick up the food but not to hop around on top of it. Food dispensers are particularly suitable.

Cleaning your bird box

Bird boxes must always be hygienic. This means that regular cleaning is extremely important. It is not absolutely necessary to offer the birds a source of water, too, as they are able to meet their need for water from the snow - assuming there is any. However, if you want to provide water anyway, it is important to make sure that the water receptacle is not so big that the birds are able to bathe in it. Less experienced young birds in particular would jump at the chance of a risky dip, but this would cool their body temperatures too much.

If you provide bird boxes on trees or upright bird tables, you may find that the odd squirrel takes advantage of your hospitality. If you want to cater for the dietary requirements of these rodents, too, put out nuts and pieces of apple to fill them up and provide them with important nutrients. If you observe all of these points, nothing will stand in the way of you enjoying a lovely winter in the company of other creatures.