Written by Sharon Barker. This blog post originally appeared as a feature in the Eastern Daily Press Weekend magazine on 14 January 2017.

Putting out food for our birds is a great way to add movement and colourful interest to the winter garden when viewed through the window.  It will also help to ensure that the birds are in good physical condition in the spring and set them up for a successful breeding season.  Getting the birds used to feeding in a place where they can easily be seen – through a window or from a part of the garden where you can sit quietly and go un-heeded – can also reward us with fantastic close-up views without disturbing them as they go about their business. Just what you need if you’re thinking about taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch later this month.

Photo credit: Ben Hall

If you’re putting out food for your birds, it’s important to remember to clean feeders regularly with a solution of mild disinfectant (then rinse) to prevent the spread of diseases when potentially large numbers of hungry birds are all using the same feeding station.


Photo credit: David Tipling

What to feed

Fat blocks provide high calorie food for birds that need large amounts of energy just to keep warm.  Grated mild cheese is popular with wrens and robins.  Commercially produced seed mixes help ensure a more balanced diet overall, although at RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden sunflower hearts seem to be the firm favourite at any time of the year.  Nuts in wire mesh feeders, rather than net bags to avoid the chance of entanglement, are also good calorie providers over the winter.

Photo credit: David Tipling

Seed heads left on flower stems will help too and look amazing when draped with frosty spider webs – great for photographers as they don’t run away!  Winter flowering plants will help any insects around during milder spells.  Snowdrops (simple, rather than frilly varieties) and winter aconites are good choices. Avoid cutting back anything that still has berries on it, including ivy.  Berries are a valuable food source and just watch blue tits hopping in and out of the foliage in search of insects too.  


Photo credit: Ben Hall 

Don’t forget the water

Water is a necessity for garden wildlife, so make sure that there is always some available in a shallow dish.  During an icy spell, don’t leave your pond iced over or the water will become starved of oxygen.  Placing a pan of hot water on top of the surface will gently melt an air hole.  Smashing it can send shockwaves through the water beneath which can be harmful to wildlife there.

Photo credit: RSPB

For more ideas for how you can help transform you garden or local green space into a wildlife haven, go to rspb.org.uk/myplan


Count the birds

Have you put the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch weekend dates in your diary yet?  Yes, it’s nearly time for the world’s largest garden wildlife survey, and with a new extension into the Monday, this year it will take place over 28, 29 and 30 January

Visit rspb.org.uk/birdwatch or text BIRD to 70030 to order your free 2017 survey and activity pack.  We’re also interested in hearing about other wildlife seen during the past year, such as hedgehogs, grass snakes and stag beetles.


Flatford Wildlife Garden

At Flatford Wildlife Garden, next to the iconic Flatford Mill on the River Stour on the border between Suffolk and Essex, visitors of all ages can explore the wonders of nature in a garden where wildlife is as welcome as people.

Photo credit: Andy Hay

The garden will be open to visitors on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 January. For the youngsters (and the young at heart), we will be making take-home bird feeders to put in your own gardens, and of course there will be people on hand to help answer your questions about the Big Garden Birdwatch, wildlife gardening, and how to give nature a home in your garden.

Plan you visit at rspb.org.uk/flatford

More information on the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch can be found here.

Information on how to become a RSPB member can be found here.

Step-by-step guide on how to open a bird cafe can be found here.

Variety of bird foods and feeders can be found on the RSPB shop