Want to know what to feed garden birds in the winter in the UK? Read on for all the details on what to feed and what not to feed our feathered friends.
Winter is just around the corner and our little feathered 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 dos and don’ts about feeding garden birds that perhaps not everyone is aware of. Therefore it’s wise to give this a read-over before you pop any food out!
What To Feed Birds In The Winter
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 kinds of mixes make them suitable for a wide variety of garden birds.
It is best to avoid mixes containing a high quantity of pulses. These include split peas, lentils, beans, as well as rice. This is because 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 that you’ll need some kind of feeder. Birdseed can be placed loosely on a bird table*. Alternatively, pop it in a bird feeder.
Mealworms are appreciated by most garden birds all year round, especially robins and blackbirds. Buy good quality mealworms from a local pet shop or garden centre, or from the RSPB, and pop them on a bird table*.
If you are especially committed you can breed your own mealworms. I’m the first to admit that I feel a little squeamish about breeding them, so I am happy to continue purchasing them from a shop!
Fat Balls – Feed To Birds In Winter Only
The words ‘fat balls’ always make me giggle, but in all seriousness, fat balls are a great source of food and energy for garden birds in the winter. I find they 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. As such they 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. A word of warning: 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. If you don’t have a holder, you can set 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. Here they can rot in the heat, and make birds ill.
Contrary to popular belief, bread is not the best food to feed wild birds. It tends to fill them up with little nutritional benefit. Therefore 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 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 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 birds with during 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.
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 Useful Tips For Feeding Wild Birds in Winter
There are a few other useful tips to know, if you plan on feeding birds over winter.
Keep Things Clean When Feeding Birds
Clean your feeders, tables, water pots, and birdbaths regularly to prevent the spread of disease in wild bird populations. A mild disinfectant liberally diluted in water will do the trick.
Keep Things Safe
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 as above.
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 finally, 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. It was a lot of fun watching them find inventive and unusual ways to get to the food in the feeders!
ps: here’s how to attract bees to your garden too, to make your garden a wildlife haven.