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How can I provide shelter for garden birds in really cold weather?

Sent in by Sally McKenzie, Maastricht, Netherlands

Sally said: Temperatures as low as minus 30 Celsius are forecasted for our area with continuous freezing conditions for at least 10 days. What can I do to provide warm shelter for my garden birds?

That is really cold, and naturally we feel desperate to help our garden birds when temperatures sink so low. 

However, as far as providing shelter is concerned, then birds usually choose evergreens, thick bushes and hedges for night-time roosts. Reedbeds are also popular. Starlings love these, diving in en masse at dusk after swooping around in ever increasing numbers. 

In gardens, mature ivy is a favourite and, if this is growing against a house wall, the birds get extra protection and fewer chilly draughts. I remember watching almost 200 pied wagtails diving into thick ivy growing over a fairly low wall in a local park - an amazing sight with the latecomers struggling to find a spare perch. 

Tits and wrens regularly roost in nestboxes, with wrens inviting plenty of friends to share. This is an excellent strategy, as tiny birds are particularly vulnerable during cold nights; many wrens, huddled together, helps to keep them all warm and cosy. 

To summarise, nestboxes can help and, when planting new areas, include shrubs and climbers that will provide thick cover during winter. 

However, having full tummies also helps birds to keep out the cold. Provide nourishing food, such as sunflower hearts, fat cakes and suet nibbles on a regular basis. If birds struggle to find food during the day, then long, cold nights often prove fatal.

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