There’s something very special about birds visiting your garden and it’s a great opportunity to get closer to wildlife.

During winter food is much harder to come by for birds and colder temperatures and shorter day lengths means less time to feed; and snow and ice makes foraging very difficult. Here's what to do to ensure your bird tables and feeders are busy with visitors this winter!

Great British Life: European goldfinch Carduelis carduelis, flock of birds feeding on a frosty seed feeder Photo Ben Andrew European goldfinch Carduelis carduelis, flock of birds feeding on a frosty seed feeder Photo Ben Andrew


Providing suitable, high fat foods for birds can help give birds the energy they need to maintain their body temperature and get them through the long winter months.

Good examples are sunflower seeds, peanuts (plain, not salted) and bird food bars and if using fat balls ensure to remove any mesh covering to prevent birds becoming trapped or injured.

Some kitchen scraps can also be used. Fruits such as apples and pears (even if past their best), cooked rice, pasta and pastry or the insides of potatoes can be a great source of energy. Defrosted frozen peas are also an option.

Birds such as Robins, Dunnocks, Blackbirds, and Thrushes love grated mild cheese, although avoid blue or stronger cheeses.

'Not so super' foods:

Things to avoid include cooled fats or meat juices. These can be a serious problem for birds if fats get into their feathers, as it can affect their wings and feather waterproofing. Just stick to suet and lard to avoid these issues.

Salt is also something to steer clear of as birds simply cannot digest it. It can damage their nervous systems, so definitely no salty snacks or bacon rind.

Reduce your waste:

Avoid putting out too much food. Gauge each day how much is being eaten and adjust accordingly. Leftovers can build up and quickly turn rancid so discard these regularly. Try feeding twice a day (if there is enough demand form your garden visitors), once in the morning and again in the early afternoon.


Birds need water daily to drink and bathe, so providing freshwater each day is vital. Use a birdbath, pond, or even give a second life to a small, shallow container at home to provide a much-needed reservoir. If making your own, pop a stone in the middle as a perch.

Natural sources of water can often freeze in winter, so what you provide could be essential for your garden birds. Check your bird baths regularly, during the cold snaps, in case they suddenly become frozen and inaccessible.

Pour hot water over the surface to melt it (being extra careful not to scald yourself of course). Floating a light ball on the surface of your water can help keep a small area ice free, as it moves in the breeze. This is especially handy for ponds, where adding hot water should be avoided as it can shock your pondlife.

Hygiene for feeders and bird baths:

The RSPB recommends that bird feeders, tables and baths are thoroughly cleaned each week. This helps reduce the spread of garden bird diseases. Wash using warm water and ideally a 5% disinfectant solution, then air dry outside. Don’t bring feeders into your house to clean - keep them outdoors, use separate utensils and wear gloves. Always wash your hands when you’ve finished.

After all this is done you can sit back, clasp a hot drink, and enjoy the fruits of your labours, it’s a good feeling knowing you’ve done your bit to help nature where you live. And, do remember to take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

Now that your garden is a haven for birds, let us know which feathered friends are visiting you. The world’s largest garden wildlife survey returns on 26, 27 and 28 January. Now in its 45th year the Big Garden Birdwatch data you gather helps us paint an important snapshot of the health of our UK birds.

Great British Life: Winter duck flocks resting on water, RSPB Greylake Nature Reserve, Somerset Photo Colin WilkinsonWinter duck flocks resting on water, RSPB Greylake Nature Reserve, Somerset Photo Colin Wilkinson Somerset’s Winter Highlights at RSPB Ham Wall & Greylake

Now your garden birds are happy and healthy, pop on your warm coat and venture out to explore the RSPB Somerset reserves to see the wildlife making its home there this winter.

With a chill in the air, frost on the ground and often a mist hanging over the reserves in the mornings, Somerset’s RSPB reserves are an amazing place to spend a few hours watching wildlife. There’s definitely a feeling that you are immersed in an ancient landscape.

The calls of wintering ducks such as Wigeon and Teal add to the atmosphere, whilst other duck species such as Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Pintail and Pochard add to the throng. Wintering Snipe can be spotted just metres away at the RSPB Greylake Hides or from viewing screens at RSPB Ham Wall. Large flocks of Lapwing gather too, often disturbed by passing predators such as Peregrine or Marsh Harriers before settling once more. Many other waders can be spotted feeding in the safety of groups on managed islands at Ham Wall or the now much wetter fields of Greylake.Visiting winter Thrushes from Scandinavia (Fieldfare & Redwing) greedily gobble any berries from bushes and hedgerows, whilst in the reedbeds Reed Buntings and Bearded Tits feed furiously on reed seeds – they will have to work hard to gain enough energy to sustain them through the colder months.

In the treelines you can watch out for flocks of small birds such as Redpolls and Siskins, which are often seen in the Alder trees and mixed groups of tits and finches can be seen passing through in search of food. It’s always worth checking the whole flock to see whether something more unusual is hidden amongst them. Sit and wait in the hides a while. You may be lucky enough to spot a passing Bittern, the flash of blue of a Kingfisher or the very elegant Great White Egret fishing for its supper.

Keep your ears open too - Cettis Warblers with their punchy call or the squealing of the Water Rail can be heard all through winter along with the cheery song of the Robin – which is almost certain to keep its beady eye on you for any dropped crumbs!

Great British Life: European robin Erithacus rubecula, adult perched on branch Photo Ben Andrew European robin Erithacus rubecula, adult perched on branch Photo Ben Andrew The Big Garden Birdwatch

Across the Birdwatch weekend pick one hour to watch and record the birds that land (not those flying overhead) in either your garden, balcony, or local park and submit your results to the RSPB. Tell us the highest number of each bird species you spot at any one time – not the total you see in the hour. Text BIRD to 82727 or visit to receive your FREE Big Garden Birdwatch guide, including a bird ID chart, top tips for a successful birdwatch, RSPB shop voucher, and more.