General gardening topics

Choosing the best food for garden birds in winter and helpful tips to help over the colder months on the year

Last updated on March 28th, 2022

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Winter is an incredibly challenging time for wildlife as temperatures drop and food becomes significantly harder to find. Birds who would normally consume insects have to find alternative foods while certain species will travel exceptionally far and adapt their foraging behaviours. You can help all of your local birds by providing an extra source of nutrition during the cold, winter months. 

What to Feed Birds in Winter

What to feed the birds is truly contingent upon the type of birds you have in your area. Certain birds will be attracted to very specific foods while others will adapt what they consume based on what’s available. You can offer a wider variety of bird foods to maximize the number of birds you help.

  •  Goldfinches typically eat smaller seeds.
  •  Greenfinches and Tits consume sunflower hearts.
  •  Sparrows, collared doves and wood pigeons eat large grains.
  •  Woodpeckers and starlings eat fat balls and peanuts in particular.
  •  Robins and thrushes like live food or mealworms.
  •  Waxwings will consume windfall fruit.

Obviously, there is a great range in the types of foods preferred and you should take it upon yourself to figure out what birds frequent your garden so that you can decide upon what foods are best suited for them.

Britten & James All in One High Protein No Mess wild bird seed
  • Feed freely in winter and during the breeding season. 100% natural high energy food without waste. The husks have been removed, so you only pay for the edible contents and there is much less mess around your eating area. Suitable for seed feeders, bird tables and ground feeding.
  • Prized by goldfinches, bullfinches, nuthatches, robins, tits, blackbirds, sparrows, woodpeckers, brambles, and other birds.
  • Packed in the UK by Britten & James
Peckish Natural Balance Energy Suet Fat Balls for Wild Birds, 50 Tub, ‎27 x 27.5 x 19 cm
  • These energy suet fat balls are enriched with sunflower seeds to attract more birds to your garden
  • Use this food to attract Blackbird, Robin, House Sparrow, Long Tailed Tit, Chaffinch, Song Thrush, Blue Tit and Great Tit plus many more birds to your garden
  • Suitable to be fed to birds all year round
  • Can be fed from an energy ball feeder on a bird table or in a ground feeder
Extra Select Peanuts Wild Bird Food, 1 kg
  • High grade standard peanut.
  • Contains vital protein for the wild birds.
  • Ideal for winter time when natural food hard to forage.
  • Another product from the Extra Select range.
  • Weight 1kg.

Where to feed birds during winter

Where birds receive their nutrients is almost as important as what nutrients you offer. If you have things like hanging bird feeders and bird tables you will probably see a lot of smaller birds and blue tits, but not as many dunnocks or wrens. This is simply because different birds have different feeding habits.

Try smearing fat or peanut mixtures into the crevices of branches or bark

In order to maximize your offerings, you can smear your fat or peanut mixtures into the crevices of branches or bark, specifically for birds that scavenge in trees like woodpeckers. 

Birds in winter eating from bird table.jpg
Birds in winter eating from a bird table

Hang bird feeders and remember to remove snow from feeders because this is when they often need it the most

You can still hang your feeders of course for the smaller birds but be sure to remove snow regularly as tinier birds will have a significantly harder time making their way through the snow in order to reach the food, even if it’s only a few centimetres deep.

It might be worth moving the feeders and tables around every now and then to help prevent certain predators (like Sparrowhawks or cats) from becoming far too familiar with the location of their prey. If you move these around a few times throughout the winter you can also help reduce the amount of mess or build-up which would otherwise accumulate in one area of your garden.

Additionally, you can sprinkle seeds and fat balls under shrubs for the ground-feeding birds.

Plants for birds in winter

You don’t have to limit yourself to things like mealworms or seeds. There are plenty of birds that will eat what nature provides. That being said, you can plant things like Rowan trees and cotoneaster shrubs that produce crops of berries throughout the winter. Mistle thrushes love these. 

Leave fallen fruit from fruit trees rather than removing them

Cotoneaster berries are a great natural food source for blackbirds and thrushes. Blackbirds, as well as red wings, will appreciate any windfall apples. Fruit is particularly important for many birds so if you have fruit trees and shrubs you can leave the fallen fruit to give the birds something for winter.

Consider providing plants for hibernating insects that birds can feed on

Ivy is another useful climbing plant because the leaves provide a larder for wrens searching for hibernating insects.

Of course, never discount the use of nectar for smaller birds like blue tits. Early or late flowering ornamental shrubs can give berries and nectar in the winter, like the Mahonia.

Frozen bird bath in winter

Provide water through bird baths

If you are going to plant trees for the local birds or maintain feeders of any kind, it might benefit the local birds for you to provide access to clean, fresh water. Wherever the birds access their food they should also have access to water. In order to counterbalance dry diets, especially for those who consume seeds like finches, you need to offer a regular source of water and when winter temperatures drop below freezing, the available sources become significantly limited. Remember to break the ice if the water freezes to ensure the birds still have access to water on frosty days.

You can also help by filling small containers with water when all other sources are frozen. In order to keep a small container melted you can even set it on top of two bricks underneath which you light a small tea light candle.

Don’t stop feeding once you start as this can mean the difference between life and death for birds in winter

Whatever you decide, once you start the process, don’t stop. It’s important that you keep up your regular habits of feeding birds because a sudden drop in food can be particularly detrimental to the birds who otherwise relied upon your food source.

If the food naturally or gradually runs out the visitors will soon adapt and start searching elsewhere so if you are unable to keep it up for one year, you plan on removing existing trees or fruit-bearing bushes, or you are moving, start to taper off the amount of food you make available so that the birds can make an adjustment. A sudden change can quite literally mean life or death, especially for smaller birds like tits.

Clean up

No good deed goes unpunished. When you decide to feed birds throughout the winter you will have to deal with the risk of unwanted diseases passing from one bird to another. You can help this by scrubbing the feeders regularly and rinsing away any droppings. Of primary importance is the removal of any mouldy or wet food. 

Doing all of these things will go a long way toward providing the local birds with a reliable food source to get them through the colder, winter months. It also brings with it the fringe benefit of daily visits from the local bird population.

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Peckish Winter Warmer Wild Bird Seed Mix, 12.75 kg
  • Packed with nine different ingredients
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  • Ideal for feeding to birds visiting your garden during the cold winter months
  • This product comes in a resalable pack so you can keep the seed fresh once open
Bestseller No. 2
garden mile® 1kg Complete Bird Seed Bag Wild Bird Seed Mix Feed Garden Food Feeding Station All Seasons Table Seeds Winter Seeds Premium Feeder Small Large Bird Outdoor Birdseed Season Organic (1)
  • HIGH IN ENERGY - These 1kg bird seed bags are high in energy and protein to aid young bird development and help older birds during the harsh Winter months. These fantastic bags of bird seed helps our feathered friends by providing a regular source of vital protein the whole year round! Rich in oils and proteins, these seeds are very efficient for wild birds, providing them with the necessary fats and nourishment they need as well as strengthening their delicate bodies and feathers.
  • ATTRACTS BIRDS - Perfect for enticing birds in to your garden, this mix will attract birds such as the Robin, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Long Tailed Tit, Goldfinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Song Thrush, Starlings and many more! They will keep on coming back knowing they are being supplied with premium bird seed!
  • IDEAL FOR BIRD FEEDERS - Great as part of a year round high energy diet, and contributes well to a balanced meal when mixed with other feeds such as suet pellets, fat based products and Mealworms. Ideal to use on bird table and seed feeders, try to use this mix in areas which provide protection from predators. Also try to use in sheltered locations that provide protection from inclement, weather conditions. Keep feeding area and feeders clean and provide drinking water. Ideal for feeders, bird
  • USES - Can be used in a seed feeder on a bird table or in a ground feeder. Helps our feathered friends all year round and is particularly great for winter time when natural food is hard to forage. Perfect for feeding all year round during Spring and Summer months to help while adults are feeding their young ones and during Autumn and Winter months when food is more difficult to come by.
  • VARIETY OF SIZES - Our bags of premium bird food come in a huge variety of sizes perfect for small or large feeders and gardens. These bags of seed come in bags of; 1kg, 1.8kg, 3kg, 3.6kg, 5kg, 12.75kg, 20kg.
Bestseller No. 3
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Bestseller No. 5
Harrisons Wild Bird Premium Fat Balls x 150 High Energy Food For The Winter
  • Harrisons Bird Silver Premium Balls x 150 High Energy Winter Food

Last update on 2022-03-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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