Winter is a tough time for birds. There’s less food available, and they use up a lot of energy in keeping themselves warm. Every little thing we can do to help birds in winter will make a difference to their survival, so here are a few things you can do this winter to take care of the birds in your garden.
What to feed birds in winter
Birds need high-energy food in winter, as they burn it up quickly trying to keep themselves warm. Because food is so scarce in winter, once birds find your bird feeder they’ll visit regularly. Top up your feeders regularly so the birds don’t use up their precious energy on a wasted journey. They’ll also be grateful for a daily supply of fresh water for drinking and bathing.
Food high in oils helps birds build up their fat reserves. Here are some of the best foods to give:
- Black sunflower seeds (you can also buy sunflower hearts, which have the husks removed, so they make less mess)
- Nyjer seeds – these oil-rich, small black seeds are very popular with many birds, including goldfinches, siskins and sparrows. Because the seeds are so small, you’ll need to use a special Nyjer seed feeder.
- Peanuts are a very good winter bird food, but always buy them from a reputable bird seed supplier as they can contain a natural toxin that’s harmful to birds. Put them in a feeder, so birds can peck pieces off without the risk of choking on whole nuts, and don’t use salted or roasted peanuts as they contain salt which will harm birds.
- Fat or suet balls are another great winter bird food. If the balls are sold in netting bags, remove these before hanging up the ball, so birds don’t get their feet tangled in the netting.
What not to feed birds
When you’re putting out food for birds, there are a few things that you should definitely avoid. Cooking fat, polyunsaturated kinds of margarine and vegetable oils are not good for birds. Don’t use dry cat or dog food, as birds can choke on it. And never give birds milk, as it will give them an upset stomach, although they can eat fermented dairy products such as cheese.
Make a bird-friendly garden
Deciduous trees like hawthorn and rowan are excellent for a bird-friendly garden, providing tasty berries in autumn, and in winter their fallen leaves are home to insects that birds can feed on. Prickly evergreen shrubs like pyracantha and holly are a double bonus for birds - the thorns protect the birds from predators and the berries are a handy source of food. Conifers like yew and pine also make good shelter plants for birds in winter.
Look after the birds in your garden this winter and they’ll be back to bring you joy in spring and summer. Visit our garden centre for everything you need to take care of birds this winter!