During the cold weeks of the early New Year, gardens can be a real haven for birds looking for warmth and shelter. Many natural food and water sources will be in short supply so the food and water found in gardens can be a literal life saver.

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Birds will become bolder and will venture into gardens looking for scattered scraps and well stocked feeders and bird tables.

If you have windfall apples leave them on the ground for thrushes and blackbirds. Alternatively put out fresh fruit or sliced and soaked, dried fruit and you may even be lucky enough to see fieldfares and redwings, searching for berries and fruits in the cold weather. At this time of year greater spotted woodpeckers may visit gardens, particularly if you leave out a lump of rotten wood or provide a peanut feeder.

Make sure you keep your bird feeders and tables well stocked and put out plenty of energy rich foods such as nuts, suet, cooking fat, meat, cheese and other kitchen scraps, or you could hang up a coconut which is packed with nutrition.

As there is no risk to fledglings as the breeding season has not yet begun, it is fine to leave out whole nuts and large chunks of food at this time of year. Unless they have been soaked in alcohol, left over Christmas cake, pudding or mince pies would be ideal as they are packed with fruit and fat. Do not put out salted or coated nuts as these are harmful to birds.

A bird bath will be an important source of drinking water so keep yours topped up and free from ice. Do not use antifreeze or other chemicals; either fill the bath with water from the kettle each morning or use a special bird friendly de-icer. A couple of tennis balls added to the water can also help prevent ice forming.

You can plant shrubs during the winter - choose plants that are berry-bearing to provide a natural food source for your garden birds or a thick, thorny bush to provide shelter and nesting spots.

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