Birds need a drink

Blackbird in Crabapple - birds in winter © Isabelle van Groeningen

Blackbird in Crabapple

Whilst many parts of Europe have been seeing considerable amounts of snow, Berlin has hardly had any of the white stuff. It is therefore with relief that this morning I could see a thin white sprinkling scattered across my garden. It is not much, but it’ll do. What for I hear you ask? For drinking!

The importance of snow

birds under the feedingtable © Isabelle van Groeningen

under the feedingtable

Earlier this week I saw a desperate sparrow hammer at a frozen puddle of water on the street. Since several days temperatures have been below freezing day and night. So that water remains frozen. Of course rivers and lakes in the city are still open, but the numerous ports of call where birds and other animals can normally rely on finding drinking water are not available during this weather. Fountains are switched off and water basins drained. This is why I am so pleased to see a few snowflakes, as these can be swallowed. Even though by now the sun is shining again, in shady areas those few flakes will stay.

Hot water

We always leave the water in our very shallow steel dishes (their design is so that frozen water can expand without harming the structure) but by now it is frozen. The past few days we have been pouring kettles of hot water into one of them to provide some accessible water for at least part of the day. It does not last, but long enough that a few grateful blackbirds, blue tits and sparrows have made use of it. It is possible to buy special heating elements to put in bird baths, or even buy a heated birdbath. Alternatively, it should be possible to construct something fairly simple, where a long-burning graveyard candle sits under a terracotta dish to keep the water warmed.

Food for birds

With these feathered friends in mind I try to plant a diversity of plants that will provide seeds, fruits and evergreen cover so their bed and breakfast needs are cared for during the wintermonths. For selfish reasons I do like to provide some additional birdfood. Regardless of whether it is a feeding table, tube, ball or other structure you stand or hang somewhere, position it so that you can observe it from inside. My favourite is being able to see them from the dining table, so that at breakfast and lunch you can observe the comings and goings. Birds also love it as they can then eat undisturbed as you are not disrupting their peace and quiet in the garden.

Evergreen cover

Birdfeeders in Bamboo © Isabelle van Groeningen

Birdfeeders in Bamboo

Important is to position the feeding place near preferably evergreen shrubs. Something twiggy so they can queue up for it during busy times, and evergreen is always appreciated as they can rapidly disappear in case they feel threatened by a predator. An ivy-covered treetrunk or wall, rhododendrons, hollies, or a dense, twiggy hedge are all perfect hiding places.

I always enjoy birdlife, especially at this time of year. Their activity brings life into the garden and it is reassuring to hear the sparrows raucous chatter each day a little earlier as the daylength slowly increases. On days where I have to leave the house particularly early to go to the flowermarket or catch an early flight or train, the blackbirds are already busy staking out their territory with their clear, beautiful song. It makes the getting up early so much easier!

Trampled snow birds in winter - birds © Isabelle van Groeningen

Trampled snow