westland garden health logo

How to Care for the Birds in Winter

Many creatures fatten themselves up during the summer months so that they can survive over the winter on the fat they store. Birds live for the moment, feeding on whatever is available to maintain their body weight and survive each day to face the next. It’s a tough life and, unfortunately, many don’t make it through the winter.

You can care for the birds in winter and help them survive by supplementing their diet, providing safe shelter and clean drinking water. As the temperature drops and natural food becomes less available, this extra feeding support can often be the difference between life and death.

Fast Food

Solid, frozen ground, iced water sources and a frozen landscape can make most natural food unavailable to your feathered friends.

Every activity they make uses vital energy they need to keep warm, so keep your feeders and bird tables well stocked with food so they don’t have a wasted journey. Choose food that is husk and hull free for faster feeding to reduce the effort needed; it’ll also keep the area underneath your feeders free from mess and debris.

Feed according to demand, especially when you start feeding and in wet and cold weather. Offer food for a short period to start with to prevent wastage; once the birds have found your feeder, you can adjust the amount you feed accordingly.

Body Weight

Birds need to be lightweight to fly, but the cold winter temperatures take their toll on tiny birds that need to keep their body weight up to survive. Small birds such as goldcrests, wrens and long-tailed tits all lose their body heat much more quickly than their larger cousins and need to feed regularly to keep warm.

With the days becoming shorter, all birds have much less time to find food and for small species, this can mean foraging and eating continuously from dawn until dusk.

In cold and icy weather, their normal food can be hard to find, so if you want to make a real difference, feed the very best quality food you can buy when it’s cold. High-energy food really can help make a difference, like our Peckish Winter Warmer Extra Energy Seed Mix.

Choose energy-rich bird food that contains suet, nuts and oil-rich seed such as sunflower hearts. Peckish Daily Goodness Nuggets are a great choice as they can be presented in feeders, on bird tables or ground feeders, so that every type of bird can benefit. Each nugget contains a nutritious combination of high-energy suet, seeds and high protein mealworms, mimicking a natural diet and providing birds with the energy and nutrients they need to stay healthy. Feed daily and increase the quantity during cold and icy weather.

You can also offer more than one type of food to cater for a wider spectrum of birds or opt for a species-specific product that contains a balanced mix of seeds, nuts, insects, fruit, fat and berries.

Songbirds

It’s hard to imagine the garden without the sound of bird song; it’s a worrying thought and your garden would be a very different space.

Many of our garden birds including chaffinch, wren, tits and thrushes are known as songbirds, each filling the air with a musical dawn chorus and then continuing their beautiful performance until dusk. Just like a fine orchestra, these music makers need the energy to sustain them. Keep them in fine fettle and good voice with a feed that suits their needs.

Offer food on bird tables and ground feeders to provide a nutrient-rich feed for your musical feathered friends.

Nestboxes

Nest boxes make great gifts for gardeners, and winter is the perfect time to put them up and allow them to blend into their surroundings.

Wild birds often choose boxes that have been in place a season or two, familiarising themselves with the environment and site for weeks or months before they move in. They need to ensure that it provides a safe place to raise a brood.

In winter, nest boxes are also used for roosting by some small species. Transform your nest box into a safe roosting box with a few simple tricks:

  • Clean out your nest boxes – remove all old nest material and add it to the compost heap. Use a dedicated wildlife cleanser and give it a good scrub and then rinse well
  • Check the nest box for leaks, cracks and damage and repair now while the box is empty
  • Renew hinges and ensure that the entrance hole is secure. Fix a metal plate to it where possible to prevent rodents gnawing their way in
  • To make it a warmer roost box, turn the nest box upside-down so that the entrance hole is at the bottom
  • Seal any cracks and cut panels of insulation such as Celotex or Kingspan to fit inside the box at the roof and also on the sides
  • Add some thick twig perches. Cut them just larger than the inside width and jam them in place. Birds are very light and a thick twig will easily support their weight
  • Cover the bottom of the box with a generous layer of clean dry leaves, moss or sawdust
  • Fix the roosting box back in place and ensure that the roof is waterproof and strong. Position it so that the entrance points down slightly to prevent rainwater from falling directly inside through the entrance hole.

Robins

The quintessential winter bird of Britain simply has to be the robin. They feature on Christmas cards and their bright red chest even resembles the garb of the great Santa himself!

Robins are revered by gardeners as voracious pest eaters and often shadow the winter gardener in the hope of an unearthed worm or another tasty morsel.

Robins are very territorial and have an extremely beautiful song, but these characterful birds, like many other small garden birds, find winter quite a test; 70% of robins will die before they reach a year old. Their first winter is the hardest of all, but you can do your bit and help these creatures survive to raise their chicks.

You can make a real difference by supplementing their diet with some insect rich food that mimics what they choose to eat in the wild. Choose a tailored robin food and you’ll soon see much more of the red-chested puffed up robins hopping between the shrubs in your garden.

Robins are ground feeders but will also feast at a table. They can become quite tame and many people have trained them to take mealworms from an outstretched hand. It’s a slow process of gaining their trust that begins by offering them dried mealworms from the bird table. These high-protein wild bird treats are almost irresistible and you could soon have them eating out of your hands. To find out more about Robins, read our interactive guide.

Related articles

How to Care for the Birds in Autumn

How to Care for the Birds in Autumn

As this hot summer turns into autumn there’s a notable change in the light, mood and atmosphere of the garden. Birds are feeling the change...

How to Care for the Birds in Spring

How to Care for the Birds in Spring

Wild birds are a welcome sight in our gardens throughout the year, and during the springtime, you’ll notice a hive of new activity as the...

How to Care for the Birds in Summer

How to Care for the Birds in Summer

You may think that wild birds only need supplementary food during the colder months, but even in the summer, birds need a helping hand in...