If you’ve felt that some of your garden birds were ‘missing’ recently, don’t worry. They’ll be back soon! If you’re lucky, you might even see something rare amongst your returning birds, such as a Brambling from Scandinavia.
Every autumn, from late August to November, BirdWatch Ireland gets the same question on a daily basis: Where have my garden birds gone? Once the breeding season is over, birds are no longer restricted to their territory and they can roam freely. At that time of year there’s an abundance of food across the countryside – invertebrates, berries, fruits and seeds, so the birds are essentially spoiled for choice, with a bounty available in hedgerows, woodlands and scrub across the country. As autumn turns to winter these natural food sources start to run out, and the ever-shortening days means birds have less time to feed, so birds retreat to gardens. This happens at different rates for different species – you’ll probably first notice Blue Tits and Great Tits returning in number, followed by Robins and Blackbirds making more regular appearances, with Chaffinch and Goldfinch numbers gradually increasing between now and January. This autumn has been exceptionally mild, to the benefit of many birds, but with temperatures set to drop this coming week, now is the time to make sure you have your feeders out!
What to Feed your Garden Birds
If you can, make sure to stock up on birdfood now to keep you going for a few weeks – see our ‘Feeding Your Garden Birds’ section for full details. Every sort of bird food has different advantages and disadvantages. At the moment, peanuts, sunflower seeds and mixed seed will all go down well. If you’ve got Blackbirds visiting, chop up some apples and leave them on the lawn. Fatballs and suet pellets are ok, but better to save them for the really cold weather later in the winter. Uncooked porridge oats and breadcrumb (not if mouldy!) are always an option too. Don’t forget that a water bath makes it easy for birds to both drink and wash, which they need to do every day. Just make sure to clean it out every couple of days so the water stays fresh.
If you’re stocking up on birdfood and feeders, please check out the selection available at the BirdWatch Ireland shop. You can help your garden birds and support Ireland’s biggest wildlife conservation charity at the same time!
This year is already shaping up to be a good winter for Bramblings. They’re closely related to Chaffinches, and they are often found in flocks of their more common cousins. They have an orange/grey/black colour palette however, and are much more scarce in Ireland. They breeding in forests in Scandinavia, and normally migrate south to mainland Europe for the winter. Small numbers end up in Britain every winter however, and even smaller numbers come to Ireland. This winter there has already been loads of reports of Bramblings across Ireland, and there’s more on the way, so if you’ve never seen one before then this is your chance. Take a careful look through your Chaffinches for something a bit different, and don’t forget to log yours as part of the Irish Garden Bird Survey this winter!
A beautiful Brambling, recently photographed by Janice Mulligan.
See below some useful links for deciding what food to put out for your birds and how to care for them throughout the winter:
We are hugely grateful to Ballymaloe for their sponsorship and support of the Irish Garden Bird Survey.