How to help birds in winter
Winter can feel like a time where most animals are quite scarce. But one of the lovely things about this season is the number of birds which visit our gardens. There are plenty of our native species about, such as robins, chaffinches, and blue tits, but also winter visitors which migrate here from overseas, such as bramblings, redwings, and fieldfares. Winter can be a difficult time for birds, as weather is harsh and food hard to find, but helping them get through it is one of the best examples of the important relationship between humans and nature.
How can you help birds get through the winter?
- Leave parts of your garden to grow wild (e.g. ivy and hedges), providing shelter.
- Grow plants which produce nutritious seed heads and berries, such as teasel or rowan.
- Provide water for them to drink and bathe, making sure it stays unfrozen.
- Put out food for them to eat.
Tips for feeding birds
- The right kind of food:
Whilst mixed birdseed feeds a variety of species, different birds do like to eat different kinds of food. The Woodland Trust suggests putting out these kinds of food for particular birds:
- Goldfinch, siskin, redpoll – smaller seeds like nyjer
- Greenfinch, tits – sunflower hearts
- Sparrows, wood pigeon, collared dove – large grains
- Woodpeckers, tits, starling – fat balls and peanuts
- Robin, thrushes – mealworms and live foods
- Thrushes, waxwing, blackbirds – windfall fruit
(Here’s a link to their article: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2018/02/feeding-winter-birds/ )
There are also some foods which are not recommended for feeding to birds. This includes fat from a roasting tin (i.e. cooked fat), salted/flavoured nuts, cooked oats, and bread.
- The right place:
Different bird species like to get their food in different ways. For example, robins and blackbirds are happy to eat from a bird table; chaffinches and dunnocks like to eat their food off the ground, and woodpeckers and nuthatches take their food from tree trunks.
It’s important to clean your bird feeders regularly to stop the buildup of mould, harmful bacteria and diseases, and to clear blockages that could be stopping birds getting at the seeds.
Fat Ball recipe
Fat balls provide birds with much needed calories during the cold weather. Making your own from scratch can also be a fun winter activity. Here is an easy recipe for home-made fat balls:
- Ingredients: 1 part lard or suet, and 2 parts bird seeds (or uncooked oats, nuts, raisins, other dried fruit)
- Melt the fat in a saucepan, add the dried ingredients and stir until all the seeds etc. are coated.
- Press the mixture into moulds, or use your hands/an ice cream scoop to mould them to the shape you want
- Put in the fridge overnight to set
- Hang them from trees/a bird table, or crumble them on the floor or tree branches for the birds to enjoy.
Moulds you can use to make the fat balls include yoghurt pots, muffin wrappers, pine cones, gnarly logs, coconut shells, or be creative with what you have handy!
Here’s where we got this recipe from: https://letsgrowwild.uk/make-homemade-fat-balls-birds/
by Abby Button