Helping birds in Winter

Blackbird on snowy shed roof

Blackbird (male)

Winter is fast approaching. The nights turn colder, the days darker and the amount of birds visiting the garden to feed increases. We put food out all year round but ramp up our efforts during the colder seasons.

“Birds have to feed at an accelerated rate, but must also take adequate time out to rest and conserve energy. It is a fine balancing act and one they cannot afford to get wrong. The smallest birds, like blue tits and goldcrests, have to effectively feed throughout the hours of daylight in winter and consume a vast quantity of food – as much as 30% of their body weight – to make sure they build the necessary fat reserves to get them through the long, cold nights.”

Source: RSPB

Sparrow on fence

House sparrow (male)

I found this information whilst reading about falling bird populations in the UK. We have lots of house sparrows visit our garden – did you know they have a red conservation status? This means they are of ‘highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action’. The easier we can make life for them, the better! So I’ve made a list of a few simple things we can all do to help garden birds whether they’re on the red list or not.

Water

Make sure a supply of fresh, unfrozen water available. If your bird bath freezes over just pour some warm water over the ice in the morning to help it thaw. Birds can eat snow but it takes more energy.

Male house sparrow on bird bath

House sparrow

Also put a stone or pebble in the bird bath (to just above water level) to help smaller birds drink and wash.

Seed

Coal tit eating a seed

Great tit

Putting seed out is one of the quickest and easiest things you can do.  Sunflower hearts/seeds are a sure-fire winner. Our favourite mix contains sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, oats, red millet and canary seed. Birds it attracts include:

  • Robins
  • Blue tits
  • Greenfinches
  • Starlings
  • House sparrows
  • Collared dove
  • Chaffinch
  • Coal tit
  • Blackbird
  • Magpie
  • Wood pigeon
  • Goldfinch

It’s worth scattering some seed below the feeder or on a nearby wall so that larger birds like wood pigeons and starlings can feed comfortably. Also, robins prefer not to sit on a feeder if they can help it.

Robin sitting on a fence

Robin

Mealworms and other bugs

Birds go bonkers for meal worms. When you scatter them in the garden it’s like watching people go crazy in shops for Black Friday deals. They are quite pricey compared to bird food so they are more of a treat then a feeder staple in our garden.

Fat cake / suet

Suet (also know as fat cake) is a high energy bird food. Birds love it but they are also picky creatures, they only like the best! You can buy balls of browny coloured cake in green string bags but in my experience they don’t eat them. I don’t know why. Generally, the paler the suet the more likely they are to eat it. The RSPB sell several good suet cakes and the birds in our garden gobble up the suet with meal worms.

Blue tit eating fatcake with turned head

Blue tit

If you fancy getting creative, try making some homemade fat cake. It’s very easy. Lard stinks the kitchen out so I’d recommend using suet instead.

Nibbled fat cake in a tree

Homemade fat cake

Berries

Add plants that provide berries for birds. We planted a pyracantha (also known as firethorn) and it has produced lots of berries this year. Other good options include holly, dogwood, elderberry and rowan. Planting these will be more effort in the short term but little effort in the long term.

Plump red berries

Pyracantha berries

Keep feeders and baths clean

Just like humans, birds can be more vulnerable to disease during the Winter. Regularly cleaning your feeders is vital to help reduce the spread of diseases and germs. You can find out how to do this properly on Gardeners’ World.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas. If you have any tips, drop me a comment below and I’ll include some in this post with a credit.

3 Comments

  1. Great post Gemma. We have so many berries until recently in our hedgerows that I haven’t put any feed out but have a big bag of goodies prepared to help them when the weather cools down. After reading this I realise I should really start putting it out this weekend with my kids

  2. I need to get on the case and make some fat balls – I hadn’t even thought about the birds yet so thanks for the nudge x

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