Birds are warm-blooded creatures like us, so they need to feed regularly to keep their body temperature up in cold conditions. Most of the time they can find natural sources of food in the seeds and insects in the environment. However, in the run-up to Christmas and in the early months of the New Year they can really struggle, and a blanket of snow means that garden birds can't easily find their usual food sources.
What to Feed Garden Birds in Winter
In the short winter days time is of the essence, so high-energy foodstuffs can make a real difference. As well as the traditional bird seed mixes, there are high-calorie foods like fat balls, peanuts and mealworms. However, traditional leftovers can also be high-calorie mixes. Put out grated cheese, the insides of cooked potatoes, even cooked rice and pasta will be welcome. Avoid salty items, however, such as salted bacon since birds can't process the salt easily.
A bird table is a versatile way to feed leftovers and seed. It is worth making life harder for opportunistic cats by sliding a piece of plastic drainpipe over the support pole, making a smooth surface so they can't get a purchase on it with their claws. Peanuts and seed can be fed from classic tube feeders. These stand up well even to quite heavy snow several inches thick, if mounted on a feeder pole, which keeps them safely away from ground predators.
Access to Fresh Water is Important for Birds in Freezing Conditions
Birds find it hard to find fresh water in sub-zero conditions, so keeping the bird bath topped up and ice-free will help them get through the day. The best way to do this is to top up the birdbath with warm water, which will keep the ice at bay for longer. Resin-based birdbaths with a hollow inside are better at keeping the water above freezing than thin metal ones or even solid stone types. The latter have a high thermal mass which soaks up the heat from the warm water. Never add antifreeze or salt to the water, this will do your feathered visitors no good at all if they ingest it.
Other Garden Items That Can Help Wintering Birds
Shelter from the cold and the harsh winds will also be appreciated by garden birds, and they may use nestboxes for roosting. An very tidy garden is not particularly bird-friendly, as they love to roost in shrubs and ivy, even old piles of leaves, and some of these are host to the insects that many garden birds feed on.
Feeding the garden birds in winter will draw a lovely show to your garden and you will have the enjoyment of seeing colourful nature from your living room to brighten up the short days - a win-win result for householder and wild birds.