Winter care for garden birds

By Martyn Cox

Garden birds are extremely vulnerable over winter, especially if the ground is frozen, so it's a good idea to help them survive the colder months by installing some bird feeding stations.
Sparrow in winterSparrow in winter

Filled with high energy food, this will give them a greater chance of making it through to spring, especially as much of their natural food is in short supply. 

There's no need to go over the top and put feeders wherever there's a space - a handful sited carefully will ensure your garden soon becomes a magnet to a wide and varied range of birds. Once winter is over, continue to put out food, ensuring they have access to the calories when they need it. For instance, during nest building or when raising young.

What feeding station?

To attract a good range of birds you only need to find space for a few different feeding stations. A traditional bird table will be popular with a wide variety of birds, while a ground feeding station (best avoided if you have cats) is preferred by robins, blackbirds and thrushes. Hanging feeders suspended from trees are loved by blue tits and great tits, but if you don't have trees, buy a pole fitted with a single or double hook. You can either push this into a bed or border, or mount in a stand and place on a hard surface, such as a patio.

Choice of food

Different birds like different food and the greater selection you put out, the more birds you will attract.

Blue tits, great tits, siskins and nuthatches like peanuts, while robins and wrens love meal worms. Mixed seeds are perfect for house sparrows, blue tits and chaffinches, and nyjer seeds are ideal for goldfinches. If you have any old fruit, put on the lawn or ground feeder for blackbirds.

Where to put them

Birds will only come to feeders if they feel safe, so install where they have clear visibility of the garden and can easily fly to cover if they become alarmed - if possible, place no more than 2m from trees, shrubs or hedges. If you have cats, avoid putting feeders above ground covering shrubs, where your pet could lie in wait and mount an ambush.

Water

Apart from putting out food for birds, ensure they have access to fresh water. They need this for washing and to drink, as some foods (such as seeds) have very little moisture in them.

Whether you use a purpose built bird bath mounted on a plinth, a ceramic water dish, a hanging water dish or simply recycle a vessel from the kitchen (it needs to be slightly sloping with rough sides to help them grip on), keep it topped up and remove any ice that forms during cold snaps.

Alternatively add a few drops of a special liquid that prevents water from freezing. Don't worry, this avian version of anti-freeze is completely safe for them to drink.

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  • Rosalie rutherford

    Posted: Saturday 04 January 2014

    Very useful and interesting

  • Jacky Moull

    Posted: Friday 22 November 2013

    I have spent £s on squirrel proof feeders but all to no avail. Can anybody give advice on how to feed birds without the squirrels getting there first. Peanut feeders and fat balls feeders especially. Even seagulls and magpies have worked out how to feed from the fat ball feeders.

  • deborah cass

    Posted: Tuesday 09 April 2013

    Why don't birds freeze in winter. I can't find the answer.

  • John King

    Posted: Saturday 19 January 2013

    I gave up trying to feed the birds because my garden is plagued by grey squirrels who take everything.I have a "squirrel proof" cage type feeder...approved by the RSPB... but so far none of the smaller birds trust it & obviously the blackbirds,thrushes etc. can't feed from it.
    I read somewhere that putting Worcester sauce on nuts & seeds deters squirrels but birds are happy with it.Anyone know if this is true?

  • Angela Fuller

    Posted: Friday 18 January 2013

    What is this called, please, and where can I buy it:

    "Alternatively add a few drops of a special liquid that prevents water from freezing. Don't worry, this avian version of anti-freeze is completely safe for them to drink." Quote from above.

  • Mary Wright

    Posted: Friday 14 December 2012

    Blackbirds, thrushes, robins and wrens prefer to feed on the ground. Therefore if you want these in your garden it would be wise to offer food on the ground.

  • Lavania

    Posted: Friday 14 December 2012

    AVAIN 'ANTI FREEZE'? Where do I get this from?
    I've ask @ the RSPB site near where I live & the 3 pet food places I use FOR MY BIRD FOOD. NONE have heard of it.
    I read this in your letter last yEAR & e-mailed asking for the above details. NO REPLY!!!!!!

  • Avers

    Posted: Friday 23 November 2012

    I am worried that ground feeding birds like blackbirds etc cannot get the food on the ground i try and put out because the greedy pigeons get there first always. Anyone got any solutions please?

  • Cassie

    Posted: Tuesday 07 February 2012

    If you place food on the ground you will get all kinds of vermin plus pigeons and seagulls. try feeders with peanuts and sunflower seeds which you can hang from a tree and will be out of reach of larger birds.

  • Susie

    Posted: Sunday 05 February 2012

    What is Liquid for bird water ?? where can we buy it?

  • Gunter Kugler

    Posted: Friday 03 February 2012

    To keep pigeons away from ground feeders you could buy a protector mesh from RSPB for £29

  • David Randall

    Posted: Saturday 31 December 2011

    My bird table is as I tell everyone is a designer job.made up of old scraps of spare wood. It does the job and I get birds to it,but it is a terraced garden, and am plaqued by Pigeons and ringed doves. I used to have Tits and Robins and sparrows and nest boxes which were occupied mostly Blue Tits. May be this better weather will of late will change this situation.
    Thank you for reading.

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