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Top three ways to help your garden birds this winter

Last modified: 08 December 2014

Great tit using RSPB feeder

Image: Nigel Blake

The RSPB is asking people to top up their bird feeders and provide fresh water and shelter for wildlife in their gardens during the frosty weather. 

The temperature is expected to plummet over the next few weeks with ice and snow spreading across the country, and birds that have benefitted from a mild autumn will begin to struggle as the weather changes. The RSPB is asking people to top up their bird feeders and provide fresh water and shelter for wildlife in their gardens during the frosty weather. 

The nature charity says there are three key things that birds will need this winter: food, unfrozen water and shelter.

  1. In chilly weather birds will appreciate a variety of food, but fatty food will be especially helpful. For example, fat balls, or homemade bird cakes made with lard and packed with seeds, fruit or dried mealworms are great treats to put out in your garden. Kitchen scraps will work well, and a recipe for successfully feeding birds over winter might include chopped fat from unsalted meat, cheese, dried fruit, and pastry
  2. Unfrozen water for drinking and bathing may be hard for birds to find when there’s been a frost, but with a simple trick you can help to keep a patch of water ice-free. The RSPB recommends floating a small ball, such as a ping-pong ball, on the surface of the water. Even the lightest breeze will keep it moving and stop an area of the water freezing
  3. You can provide shelter by planting dense hedges such as privet or hawthorn, or allowing ivy or holly to grow: these all provide great cover for birds to roost in. Nestboxes can also be good roosting sites. Roofs are also a popular spot for birds trying to keep warm. If birds are getting into a hole in your roof and you need to get the hole fixed, consider putting up a nestbox to replace the gap. Find out more about giving nature a home in your garden here:

RSPB Wildlife Advisor Richard James said: “People can make a real difference to garden birds and improve their chances of surviving the winter. Birds don’t need much and by providing a supply of food, a patch of unfrozen water and somewhere to shelter from the elements, you will be rewarded with great views of wildlife in your back garden.”

Richard added: “At this time of year it’s also worth pointing out that while birds need fatty foods, you shouldn’t put out fat from a roasting tin, such as turkey fat on Christmas day, as this runny fat can coat birds’ feathers, making it difficult for them to move or fly.”

The RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch, the world’s biggest wildlife survey, returns on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 January 2015. To take part, people are asked to spend just one hour at any time over Big Garden Birdwatch weekend noting the highest number of each bird species seen in their gardens or local park at any one time. They then have three weeks to submit their results to the RSPB, either online at or in the post. 

The Big Garden Birdwatch in 2014 revealed that house sparrows were the most recorded birds despite their falling numbers, and for the first time great spotted woodpeckers appeared in the top 20. The full results can be viewed online at 

How you can help

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