Seven Tips For Feeding Birds This Winter

, 07 December 2011

Author Jess Price

blue tit and great tit feeding / Alan Price

This time last year the heavy snow fall we experienced in December forced wildlife into gardens looking for food. This year exceptionally mild weather has meant there is still plenty of natural food available in the wider countryside and our usual garden visitors have been much more elusive.

Once the temperature drops and the food runs out birds will come back to gardens looking for some extra help to keep warm.

Some people have questioned whether feeding garden birds is a good thing to do. They argue that it artificially maintains bird populations and that the food that we provide is not part of their natural diet and is bad for them. That said both the RSPB and the British Trust for Ornithology now approve feeding birds all year round. Most people believe that feeding garden birds does more good than harm, especially during winter when nutritious food is much harder to come by.

Many small birds die of cold over the winter months. By putting out a little extra food you can really help them out and you get the added bonus of being able to enjoy watching these amazing animals close up and personal.

Top tips for feeding birds this winter:

  1. Donít give too much. Amounts provided should allow for rapid turnover to reduce the chance of food becoming mouldy or contaminated.

  2. Natural foods are best but in cold weather good leftovers with a high fat content such as bacon rind, grated cheese, cooked rice and pasta will be beneficial.

  3. Donít put out salted nuts, desiccated coconut, highly spiced food or very dry bread.

  4. Food that has been contaminated with droppings and saliva can be a reservoir for some diseases that affect birds so clean your bird feeder, table and bath regularly with boiling water and disinfectant.

  5. Always wear gloves when cleaning your feeders. Brushes and equipment used for cleaning bird feeders should not be used for other purposes and should be kept and used outside.

  6. Many birds die in cold weather due to dehydration as water in bird baths freeze. Remember to put out fresh water everyday and never use any chemicals to de-ice your bird bath

  7. Supplementary feeding can never provide all the natural proteins and vitamins that birds need so try to also include natural food sources in your garden. Why not plant a native hedgerow or a couple of fruit trees? Let your plants go to seed and donít prune shrubs until late in winter.

Do you know any other good bird feeding tips? We'd love to hear them!

Feeding Garden Birds in Winter

Jess Price, Sussex Wildlife Trustís WildCall Officer talks about the best way to feed & look after your garden birds this winter on BBC Radio Sussex.

goldfinch / David Plummer -

[popup url="/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/winterbirds_ll.htm"]Link to a Living Landscape[/popup]

Leave a comment


  • Tony Roberts:

    I’d love some tips on how to deter squirrels. I put out bird feed every winter and I would say 90% of it is taken by our very brazen squirrels in the centre of Hove. I haven’t found a squirrel-proof feeder that works as advertised yet. Any help appreciated.

    07 Dec 2011 14:31:17

  • Hi Tony, I am have squirrels as well but by using a large ground feeder cage in which I have a tray of food plus a hanging fat ball feeder it has stopped the squirrels in their tracks, however if you get an adjustable mesh one like mine you will need to watch it for a few days as the young squirrels can get through until you get it adjusted correctly. On my feeder poles I use a large polycarbonate disc which sits below the feeder on four spigots, as the squirrel attempts to get from the pole onto the disc it tilts and the squirrel runs off, highly amusing!! There is more information on my website

    07 Dec 2011 14:59:26

  • Jess Price replies

    Grey squirrels can be a problem when it comes to feeding birds and unfortunately there is no one solution. You may need to be a bit experimental with your deterrence mechanisms and try several different options. I recommend that you look into pole feeders, using a cone shaped collar or a large biscuit tin to prevent squirrels climbing up it. You could even try greasing up the pole using vaseline. Of course these mechanism will not work if the squirrels can leap onto the feeder from a nearby wall or tree. I have heard that strong chilli powder dusted onto bird food can have an effect. Squirrels do not like the hotness of the food but it doesn’t seem to bother the birds. I also like Greg’s idea of a wobbling disc under the feeder.

    07 Dec 2011 15:47:29

  • It is interesting how this post concentrated on a particular weather condition. However, with regard to the comments above, I would like to add that there bird feeders come in many types, and if you are having a problem with squirrels, you may look for a bird feeder that features anti-squirrel techniques. For instance, there are various manufacturers that create feeders with perches that fall down under the weight of anything that is heavier than a bird.

    10 Jan 2012 07:22:32

  • Annie:

    these are great squirrel bafflers – but there are lots on the market I believe ‘baffler’ is the technical term.

    07 Aug 2013 13:44:57

  • Martin Dunn:

    We have a bird station in our very small garden we have fat balls seeds and peanuts and we have two other bird feeders with seed. We have a pair of blue tits,great tits and what we think is coal tits.last year we had loads of sparrows and a robin but they haven’t came back this year.
    My problem is they will will only eat the peanuts noting else we put meal worms and fresh fruit but they don’t want to know they don’t Even don’t drink the water

    22 Mar 2014 11:46:25