Mooney Goes Wild contributor Jim Wilson, wrote this article for us to help us mind our feathered friends during the Winter.

This is a tough time for birds. Keen gardeners will know that their natural food source has been depleted, leaving our feathered friends struggling to find food under the heavy cover of snow. They need all the help they can get. Here's Jim Wilson's guide to feeding garden birds.

1) Food
Put peanuts in the mesh feeders and keep wild bird seed in the seed feeder or "hopper". Put it on your bird table or hang it in a very sheltered area.

Keep seeds and kitchen scraps (nothing rotten or gone off) on the bird table or an open area of ground or on a large tray or board.

Make a birdseed cake by melting one part lard or solid vegetable fat and mixing in two parts seed/porridge oatlets/currants/raisins by weight. Place the warm mixture in a container such as an empty milk carton or small potato crisp cardboard cylinder. Store it in the freezer for a while to make sure its solid then place it on the bird table or hang it up. The fat provides extra energy for birds and the seed cake is cleaner and longer lasting than loose seed.

Some birds such as the Wood Pigeon or Collard Dove will prefer loose seed. Blackbirds and other thrushes often eat apples. Blackcaps also seem to like them. You can sometimes get bruised apples free or cheaply from your local supermarket. Cut out the bad bits and put wedges on the bird table or stick them onto a high branch.

Lean pickings for a Bullfinch in icy weather
Lean pickings for a Bullfinch in icy weather

2) Water
Don't forget water. You will be amazed at the number of birds that need water during the winter and spring for drinking and washing.

Birds cannot fly with feathers in bad condition and regular washing is essential for them to survive. If you do not want to put food out then a well-placed water bath will attract a surprisingly large number of birds.

Use a container that is gradually sloping to allow the birds to walk into either drink or wash. It does not have to be anything fancy and can be as little as 30cm diameter and should not deeper than 15cm.

Put it on the ground or on a stand. Never put hot or warm water in the birdbath. Replace the water at least every week if possible, more often if you can.

3) Feeders
The simplest and cleanest way to attract birds is to use a wire mesh bird feeder. These are available from most good gardening and pet shops. Avoid using all plastic mesh feeders as these often have mesh holes that are too big for most peanuts, and they will eventually become brittle and break.

Put the feeder and/or table near the house, not halfway down the garden. Birds are always on the watch out and will fly away if they sense danger. They will get used to movement inside the house thus allowing you to get close views of your garden visitors.

The peanuts that you use should be animal quality and free from mold. Molds that grow on peanuts can kill the birds you are trying to help so ask in the shop if they are safe for birds and examine the nuts for mold.

Some nuts are supplied with a "bird safe" seal of approval and these are the best. Hang the peanut feeder on a branch, the edge of your bird table, mounted on a pole or even on a bracket just outside your window. If possible move them around every now and again.

You can also use seed feeders but be careful not to put these out on a clothesline or branch. Most seed feeders are only suitable for use on a bird table. If you hang the seed feeder up in an unsheltered place it won't be long before the wind has blown most of your seed around your garden or yard.

The seed can also get damp, swell up and block the feeding holes. The seed will then go moldy. Wild bird mix or sunflower (especially Black Sunflower) are the best seeds to put in these feeders.

bird feeder
Winter is a tough time for birds

4) Bird Tables
A bird table will allow you to vary the type of food you put out and so attract a larger variety of birds It does not have to be fancy or permanently placed in the ground. Keep the design basic and make sure you can clean it easily and avoid ornate "crafty-looking" makes, which often combine the table with a "bird house". These may look pretty but they are totally impractical as a feeding area.

Many people do not want to attract larger birds such as crows or Jackdaws. To avoid this, ensure that your bird table has a roof. and that the gap between the roof and the table is not more than 10-12cm all around. This will exclude most large birds while allowing the smaller one to come and go. You can also use 5cm chicken wire. The small birds hop through the mesh while the larger ones are kept out.

It is also important to put an animal block on the bird table pole, for example attaching an upturned plastic pot to the pole should prevent animals from climbing up.

Make sure you keep the feeding area clean. Wash and clean the mesh feeders and the feeding surface with boiling water, as often as possible, but, at least once every two weeks to avoid mold and food build up on the feeding areas.