How to care for garden birds in winter

How to care for garden birds in winter

When the weather gets cold, birds need our help. Finding food gets harder, and they need to eat more to stay warm. Providing food and shelter in winter can make all the difference to your garden’s birds. Here are our top tips to help birds get through the winter

What to feed birds in winter

Unlike us, birds don’t have to watch the calories over Christmas. What they need is plenty of oil-rich, high-calorie food to replenish the fat stores that they burn up quickly in cold weather. Sunflower and nyjer seeds are ideal, as are suet balls (remember to take suet balls out of their mesh bags to stop birds getting their feet tangled in the netting).  Peanuts are always popular, but make sure to buy good quality unsalted peanuts suitable for birdfeed, as some peanuts contain a chemical that’s toxic to birds. 

Once you start feeding birds in winter, it’s important to stick to a routine and keep your feeders topped up. If birds know there’s food available, they’ll keep coming back, and you don’t want them to waste their valuable energy visiting an empty bird feeder. 

Keep your birdbaths watered

Keep birdbaths topped up too. Most birds need to drink twice a day, even in winter, and they also need to clean their feathers regularly to keep them waterproof. In icy weather, it can be hard for birds to find sources of clean water, so check your birdbath regularly to make sure it hasn’t frozen over. A handy tip is to leave a ping pong ball floating in the water. The ball will move about in even the lightest breeze, disturbing the water surface and keeping it from freezing in light frosts. On icy days, you may need to thaw your birdbath with warm water. (Don’t use boiling water, as this can crack stone birdbaths.)

How to make your garden bird-friendly in winter

To make your garden more bird-friendly, plant a few evergreen shrubs to provide shelter and protection for small birds in winter. Thorny evergreens like holly and pyracantha are ideal, as their berries provide a ready source of food. Mature ivy is another very bird-friendly plant, with berries for winter food and evergreen leaves for shelter.

Feeding birds at Christmas

Want to give your garden birds a treat at Christmas? Here’s what you can and can’t give them from your Christmas dinner table. 

Do give:

  • Small amounts of non-alcoholic fruit cake 
  • Fruit
  • Unsalted nuts

Don’t give:

  • Any kind of cooking fat (it smears on birds’ feathers and is very hard for them to clean off)
  • Salty snacks, such as crisps

Don’t put out too much food at any one time, as you don’t want to end up with a pile of soggy uneaten food that could attract rats or other pests.

Whatever you’re after, whether it’s bird treats or garden plants, we’ve got everything you need in our centre to help you care for your birds this winter.

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