what to feed birds in the winter

What to Feed Birds In the Winter

Winter is just around the corner and our little feather friends need our help over the cold months ahead.  I’ve put together a little handy Moral Fibres guide on what to feed birds in the winter, to help you and the birds out.

There are a few do’s and don’ts about feeding garden birds that perhaps not everyone is aware of, so it’s wise to give this a read over before you pop any food out!

What to Feed Birds In the Winter

how to feed wild birds in your garden

Seeds

When buying bird seed for garden birds look for a high quality mixed bag of seed.  Mixes that contain sunflower seeds, maize and peanut granules are great, as well as ones containing small and large seeds.   These kind of mixes makes them suitable for a wide variety of garden birds.

It is best to avoid mixes containing a high quantity of pulses, such as split peas, lentils, beans, as well as rice, as smaller species of garden birds (who tend to need food the most in winter) are unable to eat these items.

If you’re feeding birds seed bear in mind you’ll need some kind of feeder.  You can either place bird seed loose on a bird table, or in a bird feeder.

Meal Worms

Appreciated by most garden birds all year round, especially robins and blackbirds, meal worms work well placed on a bird table.  Buy good quality ones from a local pet shop or garden centre, or from the RSPB.

If you are especially committed you can breed your own mealworms but I’m the first to admit that I feel a little squeamish about breeding them, so am happy to continue purchasing them from a shop!

Fat Balls

feeding wild birds fat balls

You laughed at that, right?  Admit it!

Yes.  The words ‘fat balls’ always make me giggle too, but in all seriousness, fat balls are a great source of food and energy for garden birds in the winter, and really solve the question of what to feed birds in the winter.  Fat balls tend to be made of lard/suet, nuts, cereals and sunflower seeds, so are densely packed with essential energy and fats for birds.  Great Tits love fat balls (snigger), as do other tits, sparrows, starlings, blackbirds and black caps.

You can make your own fat balls, or you can buy fat balls in pet shops and garden centres.  They tend to come packaged in mesh bags.  Never hang the mesh bag in your garden as the mesh can trap birds feet.  Instead take them out of the bag and put them into a fat ball holder (our one above, taken a couple of years ago in a particularly snowy winter, is a metal one from Homebase), or you can sit them on a bird table.

Fat balls are most appreciated by garden birds in the winter, when fatty food sources are hard to come by.  However you should not put fat balls out in the summer months, as they can rot in the heat, and make birds ill.

Bread

Contrary to popular belief, bread is not the best food to feed to wild birds.  It tends to fill them up with little nutritional benefit, so it is best given to birds as part of a varied assortment of food on your bird table.  Any kind of bread is fine, but brown is preferable, and all bread should be soaked first.

Putting out large chunks of bread during the breeding season (spring and and summer) should be avoided at all costs in case of natural food shortages.   If a natural food shortage occurs birds may feed bread to their hatchlings – potentially causing them to choke and die.

Nuts

feeding wild birds nuts

Nuts should always be put out in your garden in a special nut feeder (as above) that only allows birds to take little nibbles of nuts.  Alternatively you can crush them into very small chunks, as again nuts can pose a choking hazard.

Other Household Food Scraps

Soft fruits, porridge oats (uncooked), grated cheese, cooked pasta and rice, soaked currants, raisins and sultanas, biscuit crumbs and pastry crumbs are all great foods to feed to birds with in the winter.  Fresh coconut is fine, but desiccated coconut should never be given to birds.

Finely chopped unsalted bacon, and fats from other unsalted meats are all ok.  Potatoes, mashed, baked or roasted are also welcomed by birds.  Anything salted should be avoided on your bird table, as should any margarine or soft fats, and anything mouldy or off.

You can also use soaked cat and dog food, and tinned pet food, however it is worth bearing in mind that the use of these may attract cats.

Food scraps should always be placed on a bird-table as sprinkling on the ground can attract rats and mice.

Water

Now we’ve established what to feed birds in the winter, it’s important to talk about water.  All birds appreciate it if you can put out a supply of fresh drinking water by your bird table in a shallow container for drinking.  In winter, this will freeze over quickly, so do try and change it regularly.

Other Advice on Feeding Birds in the Winter

Clean your feeders, tables, water pots, and bird baths regularly to prevent the spread of disease in wild bird populations.  A mild disinfectant liberally diluted in water will do the trick.

Avoid the use of ornamental mirrors in your garden too.  Mirrors can confuse birds: they will see your garden in the mirror and fly straight into the mirror.  This runs the risk of the bird breaking their neck and potentially killing them.

If you are feeding birds very close to your house it is also advisable to place stickers on your windows to deter birds from flying straight at your window, again for the same reasons.

Once you start feeding garden birds for the first time it will take a little while for the birds to find it, so don’t expect swathes of birds instantly!  Here’s a guide on how to attract wild birds to your garden if you are struggling!

And once you start feeding birds, it is best if you can consistently feed them, especially in winter, as they may come to rely on your offerings.

I hope you’ve found this guide on what to feed birds in the winter useful!  Have fun and do remember to report back here and let me know what birds you have seen in your garden!  You may also attract other animals, such as squirrels, which are also fascinating to watch.  My parents accumulated four regular squirrel visitors to their garden last winter, and it was a lot of fun watching them find inventive and unusual ways to get to the food in the feeders!

how to feed garden birds

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10 comments

  1. Yes – the waxwings are still here! We’ve never seen them before here, but they really seem to have made our tree their home for the past two months! Long tailed tits – gosh, they are so cute!

    Reply
  2. You can find everything you need for year-round bird feeding here at really reasonable prices. Their suet products are especially good!

    Reply
  3. Enjoyed this a lot! Coming up to winter, food getting scarce for the brave birds that stick it out here in the north so it’s great to know there are people out there supporting our wildlife through the toughest season! Great post, thanks!

    Reply
  4. We moved into a new build house 2years ago and we lots of different birds in our garden. But since more houses have been built we don’t get many birds are we doing something wrong.

    Reply
  5. HELP! I have got 6 bird feeders hanging in the apple tree, some filled with mixed wild bird food, some with sunflower seeds, meal worms and 5 fat balls down the garden. On the other side of the fence my neighbour has a similar set up in his pear tree. His feeders can have as many as 20 birds fighting for places, not one comes on mine and the fat balls are not touched. Anyone got any ideas as to were I am going wrong?

    Reply
    • Hi Paula, in the wild, birds are unlikely to take harmful amounts of salt, however from what I understand, like humans, birds can’t process large amounts of salt in their diet and may suffer renal failure and other health issues,

      Reply
  6. I have a bird feeder in the garden but no birds – the odd sparrow, could this be because we are within a mile of the Red Kite feeding station. They are beautiful but I do love the smaller varieties

    Reply

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