Hints & tips to help your birds this winter

As the autumn leaves start to fall and the weather is starting to turn colder, one thing we must all remember to do is give a little extra help to our songbirds over the winter.
This is the hardest time of year for our feathered friends, natural food sources are in short supply and with it being so cold, they need extra food to keep their energy levels up to stay warm.
This is where you can help; follow these few simple tips and you will also be able to enjoy watching the birds in your garden this winter.

Offer a wide variety of food

Details

Offer them a variety of food, especially fatty foods which are high in protein.

From fat balls to pastry there are plenty of foods that birds love to eat.

Fat balls, fat cakes & Flutter Butter are extremely popular in the winter months. They can contain lard or beef suet, giving our feather friends plenty of energy in the cold months. These can be purchased from most garden centres or large stores or why not try making your own at home, an activity children thoroughly enjoy. However please do not use chicken, turkey or vegetable fat, as these can be transferred onto the birds feathers during preening, clogging feathers and hindering flight.

Our birds love peanuts, but please do buy peanuts especially for birds, other sources may not have been checked for aflatoxin and could be harmful to birds. We would also recommend chopped nuts instead of whole, so they don't get stuck in their throats.

Seed mixes are another hit in our gardens, however we would recommend you avoid the cheaper versions which contain larger seeds such as barley, lentils or split peas, which are only really eaten by bigger birds such as pigeons.

Sunflower hearts & seeds are another firm favourite but did you know the black sunflower seed is better than a stripy one? The black seed has a higher fat content so are much better for birds. Sunflower hearts don’t have husks that some seeds have. This means birds use less energy, as de-husking will not be required and there will be less waste (and mess) at your feeding station.

Our birds also love a range of fresh and dried fruit (please soak your dried fruit first to avoid it expanding in the bird's tummy). Raisins, apples and bananas are firm favourites, but do be aware if putting out sultanas, as if you have a dog they can be harmful to them.

Birds also enjoy other common household foods such as uncooked porridge oats, bacon rind, small amounts of cake or biscuit crumbs (robins love a bit of Christmas cake), cooked unsalted rice, small amounts of mild grated cheese and unsalted dry breakfast cereal e.g. Cheerios or corn flakes.

 

Do NOT feed:

  • Bread, especially white bread; it is not a high quality food and will not give them the energy they need to survive.
  • Milk can upset their tummies and make them very poorly, as can mouldy or stale food.
  • Salty food can dehydrate birds.
  • Desiccated coconut can swell in birds’ stomachs.

For more information please visit our feeding birds page, also download 'which birds like to eat what and how' for information on bird foods and types of feeder.



Feed on a regular basis 

Pick a time each day you will be free to top up those feeders, then your birds won’t waste precious energy visiting and hunting for food in your garden. This can be any time during the day, just try and keep it at roughly the same time.

Don’t use plastic net feeders 

The plastic nets around fat balls etc., are very dangerous for birds; they can get tangled up in them, so make sure never to hang them out with the plastic nets on. Most garden centres offer wire cages at little cost.

Don’t forget your ground feeding birds

Certain birds such as blackbirds, robins & dunnocks prefer to feed from the ground. If you don’t wish to scatter food on the ground, a small dish will be sufficient. Fill with ripe fruit such as apples or raisins, songbird mixes or meal worms. A great way of keeping these vulnerable ground feeding birds safe from predators, such as free-roaming domestic cats, grey squirrels and sparrowhawks, is to put an old dog carrying cage over the scattered food, trays or dishes. This allows the smaller birds to access the food while keeping predators, scavengers and larger competitor birds like crows, magpies, jackdaws and pigeons out.

Don’t let your bird baths freeze over 

When it freezes, birds struggle to find a natural source of water as ponds & puddles may be frozen over. Keeping your bird baths, ponds or even a water bowl clean and frost free will really help them. To stop them freezing over add a clean ball (eg golf or ping pong ball) or wobbly rock to the water.

Think about shelter the next time you’re planting your garden

Like us, birds look for shelter to keep warm. Evergreens are a good source of shelter and will offer them some comfort in the cold weather.

Don’t forget that predators will be hungry too! 

In the cold weather predators will need to eat more to keep warm as well. There are a few things you can do to avoid them snacking on your songbirds. Place bells on cats' collars so that they can alert the birds when they are too close. Predator-proof feeding stations are also very helpful.