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Weather warning for our garden birds

Last modified: 03 February 2015

Redwing perching on frosty bush

Redwing in snow

Image: Graham Catley

With snow, ice and cold weather spreading across the country this week, the RSPB is asking people to remember the birds that need our help to endure these severe weather conditions. 

Despite a mild start to the winter, it now seems as though wild birds will face a test in finding enough of the right kind of foods to give them energy and warmth, meaning the food and water we supply could ensure their survival into spring. 

Richard James, one of the RSPB's wildlife experts, said: 'During cold snaps, such as this one, birds become more vulnerable and are more likely to come into our gardens to seek refuge. When temperatures drop below freezing, birds struggle to find the natural food they need to stay alive so we can really help them out.' 

To encourage the survival of our birds, people should provide food like mealworms, fat-balls, sunflower hearts, crushed peanuts, dried fruit, seeds and grain to compensate for birds’ natural food which is covered in snow and ice and impossible to get to. 

Kitchen leftovers like grated cheese, porridge oats, soft fruit, unsalted bacon, cooked rice, pasta and the insides of cooked potatoes are also a good source of energy for garden birds, and unfrozen water for both drinking and bathing is vital. 

Richard continued: 'With this week’s harsh and wintry conditions, the wild birds in our gardens will need a little TLC. The insects, berries and seeds garden birds usually feast on will become off-limits thanks to frost and snow, so taking the time to provide some nutritious food and water for them is important for their survival. 

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The chilly conditions will mean that birds will visit our gardens in greater numbers.   

'There’ll be more visits from garden regulars like starlings, tits, finches and thrushes, plus appearances from less-common garden birds such as countryside-dwelling fieldfares and redwings. If the cold weather prolongs, some lucky people may even catch a glimpse of the unusual-looking woodcock, with its long bill,' added Richard. 

Record-breaking Big Garden Birdwatch?

The wintery conditions come just over a week since the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, the world’s biggest garden wildlife survey. More people than ever submitted their results of the one hour Birdwatch over the weekend alone, and the RSPB expects to confirm a record-breaking year in terms of participation and birds counted once all results are in on 16 February. 

The RSPB hopes to use the data to build an overall picture of how important our gardens are for all types of wildlife and tailor its advice so people can help their wild visitors find a home, feed and breed successfully.

Richard said: 'The information we receive from Big Garden Birdwatch participants can help shape the work we do, and the species and habitats we focus on. If you did take an hour out of your weekend to count the wildlife that’s counting on you, make sure you send us your results.' 

The Big Garden Birdwatch is part of the RSPB’s Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the housing crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their own gardens and outside spaces – whether it by planting pollen-rich plants to attract bees and butterflies, putting up a nestbox for a house sparrow, or creating a pond that will support a number of different species.

How you can help

Nature in the UK is in trouble and some of our more familiar garden species are amongst those suffering serious declines. We can all help by giving nature a home where we live.