Basin Notes - February 2007

A Winter Bird Garden

Our recent bird box building day at the Wildlife Centre was well attended and lots of children went home with new bird boxes for their gardens at home.

Putting up nest boxes and bird feeders is one way of encouraging birds into your garden. The opportunity to watch birds closely from your own living room is a real privilege and a great way to get into bird watching.

House Sparrows and Starlings are amongst those common garden species that have seen numbers decline in recent years. The reasons for this are not fully understood but much of it is to do with the development of the countryside and the popularity of tidy, easy maintenance gardens. As a result natural food sources like seeds and insects have become less abundant and suitable nest sites harder to find.

At the wildlife centre our observation windows look out not only over the Montrose basin but also over bird feeders and tables, which attract lots of species that can be attracted into your own garden easily enough. Blue tits regularly feed on our hanging peanut feeders, joined by Greenfinches and the vibrant colours of Goldfinches, which have a particular taste for Nyjer seed Bird feeders need not be the usual mesh type hanging feeder, try 'thinking outside the box!'.

Challenge the birds a wee bit, we have feeders made out of drift wood with holes drilled in it these holes are packed with fat and other goodies. Staff and visitors can now enjoy watching Chaffinches impersonating humming birds while they hover and peck at these feeding stations Great spotted woodpeckers can also hang underneath and get a high-energy snack.

Winter is the time when more uncommon species like Siskin are most likely to visit garden feeders Hopefully soon they will make their first visit of this winter to the feeders at the Centre.

The bright fresh colours of many species of garden bird can more than make up for the other drab colours in the garden at this time of year.

When feeding birds it is important to remember that you must keep feeding stations clean. You wouldn't leave old food lying out on your own kitchen table and for exactly the same reasons you shouldn't let old food residues build up on your bird feeder.

You should wash out and clean your feeders at least once a month. Use a weak disinfectant solution - there are many eco-friendly domestic cleaners available at supermarkets now.

One question I often get asked is should I feed the birds all year? It is now widely accepted that, yes, you can feed all year round. There are a couple of things that are best avoided in the summer months, fat balls will go off in hot weather and it is safest to avoid putting out whole peanuts. Most species will feed their young on natural wild foods particularly insects, fruits and seeds, but feeders will provide an easy top up for parents as they rush around trying to feed a hungry family.

It is in winter's harshest months when natural foods are hard to find that your garden feeders will be at their busiest. But whether you chose to feed all year or winter only, remember to feed regularly and keep a shallow birdbath nearby for the birds to clean and drink at. Like the feeders keep this water clean and also free of ice.

So back to the nest boxes, here at the wildlife centre we are lucky enough to have a specialist nest box camera so that visitors and staff can watch the progress of the nestlings without disturbing the family. It was cleaned and disinfected just before Christmas ready for the new arrivals that will probably be inspecting it soon.

If you have a nest box up in your garden and if you haven't already cleaned it out now is the time to do it. Last year we had a family of Blue Tits using the box and hopefully this year visitors will be able to follow the story of the latest residents, a reality TV show all of our own.

The Wildlife Centre stocks a wide range of bird feeders, nest boxes and bird food, including some of our own innovative designs so pop in and get stocked up If you don't have a garden then now is the time to visit the Centre and share in the enjoyment of ours.