Winter care for garden birds

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.

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.


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.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.