While the winter has been exceptionally mild so far many wild birds gain benefit after a cold and frosty night from food left out for them on a bird table or in a bird feeder. It seems self-evident that the bonus of an early morning meal must make a life-or-death difference to some individuals.
One would have to question the sense of importing peanuts from South America or China and nyjer seed from the Ethiopian highlands to feed local Irish wild birds when sacks of rolled oats from farmers' co-ops have the advantages of being equally good, are locally sourced, are more environmentally sustainable and are far cheaper to buy.
Otherwise, birds can get along fine of scraps from the kitchen thereby nourishing wildlife, recycling waste food and cutting down on the volume of domestic waste going to landfill.
However, not all kitchen wastes are appropriate. At Christmas the RSPB warned that cooked turkey fat is extremely dangerous to birds and urging people not to put the leftover contents of their Christmas dinner roasting tins outside.
While birds love pure hard fats such as lard and suet, soft turkey fat soils feathers diminishing their water-proofing and heat insulating qualities. Turkey fat is also high in salt, is an ideal breeding ground for salmonella and other food poisoning bacteria and goes rancid very quickly.
Uncooked pastry dough, breads, crusts and stale biscuits and crackers are all very acceptable food for birds. Hard stale pieces should be soaked in water and broken up into small pieces. Once they are not coated with sauces, leftover cooked plain pasta or rice are great sources of carbohydrates too. Ideally, scraps should be chopped into small enough pieces to be carried by the birds.
Stale, hard bits of cheese should be broken up. Leftover or stale cereals are great too especially those with a low sugar content. All forms of leftover natural fruits and nuts are excellent foods. Crushed egg shells can be added too.
Feeding kitchen scraps is good but it has a number of downsides in that it can attract unwanted species and create an unwanted mess. Left out food needs to be out of the reach of rats and mice and the neighbours cats and dogs. It also needs to be covered with wire mesh if crows and other big birds are to be excluded. Experience teaches how much to put out so that nothing rots and makes a mess.