I put my first fat balls out this week, to give the birds a bit more than their usual seed mix. It’s time to fill some feathered tummies.
As we head into October, our birds and wildlife need to start putting on a bit of extra weight to see them through the cold months. Many birds and animals will die during winter if they don’t eat enough in the autumn.
So, here are five ways you can help them right now.
Photo: Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
They’re one of our favourite garden birds, but blue tit chicks have a poor survival rate... and then they have their first winter to face, too.
They don’t store fat, so they have to eat 30% of their own body weight every day during the colder months just to survive. Research has shown they lose 5% of their bodyweight just from keeping themselves warm during a long, winter night.
This time of year, they’re going to struggle to find the 300 insects a day they need to make up these calories - so garden feeding stations provide a much-needed lifeline. Can you be a blue tit hero?
What to feed them: Peanuts (in a peanut feeder) are their favourite. Sunflower hearts or seeds, and fat balls.
Photo: Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
Hedgehogs have to be at least 600 grams by the end of November to survive hibernation – that’s about the size of a melon. So, make sure you feed up any local hedgehogs over the coming month to give them a fighting chance - and if you see undersized hedgehogs in late autumn, contact a rescue centre for advice as they're not likely to make it on their own.
What to feed them: Specialist hedgehog food, cat or dog food (non-fishy), leftover meat (finely chopped), mealworms. Chopped raw peanuts and hard cheese are OK in small amounts. Put fresh water out daily - more often if it freezes.
What NOT to feed them: Bread, milk, or salty foods (bacon, crisps, salted nuts, corned beef)
Why not provide them with somewhere cosy to hibernate, too?
Like hedgehogs, badgers are omnivores. The vast majority of their diet is earthworms, but these can be harder to find in winter. Badgers also need to store fat to see them through a winter underground, and periods of drought can make things even worse. You can supplement their winter diet if badgers visit your garden, and they’ll often respond quickly to handouts, turning up for more and telling their friends. I’ll never forget the thrill of watching a troop of badgers emerging from the shrubbery to frolic under the floodlights on a friend’s patio… absolutely magical.
What to feed: Whole peanuts, peanut-butter sandwiches, dry dog food.
Photo: Nigel Blake (rspb-images.com)
I love these gorgeous, bright, distinctive little birds but I never see goldfinches except in winter, when they start thronging to my garden in droves. They’re after seeds, and they love the thick patch of teasels we planted a few years ago. This time of year, the teasel-heads yield little seeds for which the fine, pointy goldfinch beak is perfectly adapted. Their scarlet faces catch our eye from the window and they’re a delight to watch.
What to feed: Nyjer seeds (requires specialised feeder) are a nutrient-packed finch food. Teasel plants will go down well, too!
Great spotted woodpecker. Photo: Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
We're not discriminatory in our bird feeding; we sustain plenty of blackbirds, rooks, jackdaws, magpies, woodpigeons, collared doves, squirrels and the occasional woodpecker. And we don’t want any of them to starve in the winter, either. My strategy involves casting some food around on the ground because that’s usually their first port of call; but they do sometimes head on up to the bird table and hanging feeders.
What to feed: Windfall apples (I have loads at the moment!), fat balls, suet blocks, mixed seeds, mealworms, porridge oats, cooked rice, grated cheese
What not to feed: white bread, cooking fat, vegetable oil, margarine, milk, dried rice or coconut, mouldy or stale food (it can kill small birds).
So it’s time to lay the table and let the winter banquet begin! Let’s all feed up our furred and feathered friends and give them a fighting chance to get through the winter, so we can enjoy watching them (and their new families) next year!
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of October? Shiny brown conkers, freshly rolled from their spiky cases? The kaleidoscope of colours provided by the turning leaves? Maybe it’s the orange of Halloween pumpkins?
These things are synonymous with October, the month of change, but there are all sorts of vibrant colours offered by nature in this this magic month.There are bright new colours from ducks, freshly-moulted out of their dull brown "eclipse plumage" and very much back to their brilliant best; the steely blues and chocolate browns of newly-arrived Scandinavian fieldfares gobbling berries in the hedgerows and the orange and black of bramblings feeding among beech mast.
The changing seasons, demonstrated beautifully by a bracken frond (Mark Ward)
Send your autumn photos - they could appear on the RSPB website!To celebrate October's feast of colours, we're inviting you to share your photographs capturing the best of autumn with us. From ravishing reds to glorious golds and perfect purples to outrageous oranges. We'll feature two winning images; one from an RSPB reserve and one from anywhere else in the UK which could be your garden, village, town or city, or your local patch. Just make make sure your camera is with you at all times because you never know when that perfect autumn moment will present itself. Don't forget your exclusive free access to RSPB reserves if you are an RSPB member and make the most of it this October.
The one hour colour challengeI'm lucky enough to work on one of the RSPB's brilliant nature reserves, so I set out to spend an hour walking around The Lodge to see just how many colours I could find – a jewellery box’s worth? A rainbow’s? Hopefully a full-on Dulux colour chart. I don't mind saying that it went pretty well. I hope my one hour ramble will give you some ideas. Over the next few weeks, the colours will just get better and better until those magic days when the trees look as if they are on fire. This is how I got on, but I know you''ll do much better!
First up was a nice easy bonus one – a bright blue sky. Not a cloud was in the sky and October can provide some nice “Indian Summer” days. This meant that photographic opportunities were everywhere. I’m no photographer, but my phone is always with me, enabling me to capture a lot of the wildlife sights I see.
The last of the bees were enjoying some daisies in the gardens – a single common carder bee and a common furrow bee providing a lovely ginger and glossy black respectively. Sweet chestnuts lay among their silk-lined, spiky cases littering the woodland floor, providing a reminder that brown can be beautiful too.
Head for ivy on sunny autumn days - you'll soon find where all the insects have gone! (comma by Mark Ward)
As I ambled through the woods, I could see it was a little early for the leaves on the trees to be displaying their best, but the bracken on the woodland floor was looking beautiful with a contrast between summer’s bright green colours and the new browns (see top image).
Turning the corner onto a country lane just off the reserve boundary, a deep buzz filed the air. I remembered, there was a good patch of ivy on the wall and it was alive with colour. The yellows were all ticked off with three hornets bumbling clumsily around the flowers, common wasps and some (always hard to identify to species) solitary wasps. There were plenty of hoverflies too: "The Footballer", Didea fasciata and Myathropa florea added extra shades of yellows and oranges, as did the comma and small copper butterflies also nectaring on the flowers. The orange commas (above) were a blaze of colour in the autumn sunshine.
Autumn beech - each tree provides different colours as the leaves turn (Mark Ward)
Eyes to the groundYou need to look down for some of autumn’s colours because the fungi displays this year have been a little bit special. There is not better purple in the UK than that provided by the amethyst deceiver, a common woodland toadstool (below). I found my first patch of the autumn beneath a handsome beech tree that was showing its first copper-coloured leaves among the summer greens (above).
Perfect purple from the gorgeous amethyst deceiver, photographed here under the beech photographed above (Mark Ward)
There were still bursts of purple-pink form the last of the heather flowers and a common darter dragonfly was sunning itself on a patch of sun-soaked sand between the bushes.
Jays are probably at their most conspicuous in October as they find, carry and cache acorns ready to eat through winter. Look out for their floppy flight as they fly with purpose between woods and lines of trees. As one flew over, complete with acorn in beak, that was electric blue and pink in the bag, but what I was really missing was a rich, ruby red. Luckily, I had a trump card to play. There is a wonderful tree in front of the main house that remarkably quickly turns bright red every autumn and it was in full autumn garb. I don’t actually know what it is, but it is a stunner.
The mystery "red" tree at The Lodge that greets every visitor to the main house - any ideas? (Mark Ward)
I know you can do much better than my efforts above, so please get snapping, get creative and send us your shots as per the instructions below. There's more inspiration from wildlife gardening guru, Adrian Thomas' shots on his superb blog which will give you loads of gardening ideas and more inspiration for capturing October's colours on your doorstep.
How to send us your autumn photos
We can't wait to see them - good luck!
I’m going to take on my alter ego of "Mystic Mark" this morning, get my crystal ball out and boldly suggest that if you have the chance, head to the east coast for some birding as soon as you can this week. I caught the end of the weather forecast last night and I sat up when I saw the wind arrows pointing to the left. This meant the wind has switched to the east and in prime rare bird season of late September, this brings the promise of exciting eastern arrivals.
Long-eared owls are starting to arrive from Scandinavia now. I was lucky enough to see this one in the hand on Fair Isle when the wind blew from the east (Mark Ward)
We are in the best time of the year for rare and scarce birds now so they could not have come at a better time. I’m going to stick my neck out and say by the end of the week, we’ll have seen an impressive roll call of Siberian scarcities. A lot depends how far from the east the winds are originating, but we’ll certainly be picking up scarce birds leaving Scandinavia that get drifted this way by the wind.
Dull and drizzly – lovely weather for rare birdsLooking out of my window here at RSPB HQ as I'm working on the latest Nature's Home magazine, it is murky, drizzling and there is a very light east wind blowing – perfect conditions for an arrival of migrants. The birds will have set off from Scandinavia and points east in fine conditions and the east wind will help to drift them this way. Suddenly encountering this band of murk and drizzle will force them to make landfall down the east coast.
Shetland is a huge draw for rare birds and the lack of cover on Fair Isle makes them easier to find! (Mark Ward)
What's coming?So what to expect? I reckon we’ll see a good few wrynecks (keep an eye on your lawn and patio because they love to eat ants living in the cracks) and a good range of rare warblers and I think we'll be receiving some exciting news from down the east coast and up to Shetland.
Wrynecks should be touching down from Scandinavia this week (Mike Langman rspb-images.com)
It’s not just about rarities though and there will be plenty of commoner migrants too from redstarts and flycatchers to the increasing yellow-browed warbler which has already massed a good number of records this autumn, including several inland (even in London).
Scandinavian redstarts (rather then the ones that bred in the UK) arrive on east winds (Mike Langman rspb-images.com)Let us know what you seeSo am I jealous of those of you who are able to get out this week? Oh yes, but I’ll just have to live it vicariously through your sightings, so please let us know what you see. Go on you know you want to!
There are lots more wildlife-watching tips in Nature's Home magazine every quarter and it is free to every RSPB member. We're now bringing you the action month-by-month, so you'll never be short of ideas and advice to help you make the most of each season and find the best wildlife!