Berry-eating birds will need more help this year

DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 42,892

I just thought I'd mention that due to the very poor crops of some berries that we're seeing this autumn in our gardens (pyracantha is one that's been mentioned on this board) the garden blackbirds and thrushes that have come to rely on our shrubberies for winter food will need a bit more help to see them through the winter.

While so many of us provide food for the seed eaters (sunflower,peanuts, nyger etc) some of us forget the blackbirds and thrushes which do not visit the hanging containers - fruit (raisins etc) scattered on the lawn regularly in the morning will bring blackbirds into your garden and keep them alive through the cold winter months.

One very cold day last winter we had over 20 blackbirds in our garden at one time, feeding on over-ripe chopped apples and raisins.  So when the supermarkets put their cake fruit on special offer ready for the Christmas Pud season, it's a good idea to buy a few bags and put them aside for later when we get a really cold snap and the blackbirds and thrushes are searching for food.image

Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes. 


  • In most years, in my garden, there are also a lot of fallen apples which normally last a long way into the Winter. There won't be many of those this year either. I believe that some non-resident birds also like to make use of the fallen apple crop.

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 42,892

    Yes, very good point - the fieldfares and the redwings (also members of the thrush family) come over here from Scandinavia and the Baltics, especially if there's been poor crops of berries over there - I wonder what sort of weather they had earlier this year?

    Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes. 
  • Jean GenieJean Genie Posts: 1,724

    I was reading about this today in a newspaper article . During the bad winter of 2010 we had many birds visiting our garden including a large flock of waxwings which also come from Scandinavia. It amazed me how undaunted they were by people . We were able to get really close to them and took some fantastic pictures. We bought a cheap cat litter tray and filled it with all sorts of goodies including dried fruit which went down a treat with a couple of mistle thrushes. Beautiful birds but I've never seen them since - just an odd song thrush every now and then.

  • Caz WCaz W Posts: 1,353

    As well as apples and dried fruit our blackbirds always seem to enjoy oats.  I started putting oats out when I heard they would encourage wrens but so far I haven't come across any bird that doesn't eat them.  I get the "value" ones from the supermarket own brand labels.  In the very cold weather I melt some lard and mix it in to give them a bit more ooomph!  Thanks for bringing this to our attention Doveimage


  • You are a star Dove, I have several holly trees and if the wood pigeons are generous enough to leave some of the berries, it is such a pleasure to see the redwings visit en mass! I also store windfall fruit and bring it out in late winter and see some unusual visitors feast on them! I am surrounded by "young " neighbours who think I am odd as I also collect crab apple windfall from the trees along my road! I buy lard to put on the bird table(the squirrels carry off the fat balls but leave them alone!) The idea of oats is great. Thank you.

  • Alina WAlina W Posts: 1,445

    We get through about half a kilo of raisins a day in winter, and have about 20 blackbirds fighting for them. Looks like I might have to put out more this year image

  • I have to say my pyracanthas ,con aster and holly amazingly are laden with berries which the birds enjoy.I still feed the birds with extras as its needed in winter.I use to see great flocks of redwings and fieldfares at my garden years ago but over the last five or so years the numbers have dropped.Also on the common we use to get great flocks of blackhead gulls,starlings pied wagtails but these have nearly vanished.

  • Every fruit has its time when its ripe and ready to eat. Yesterday, there was a small flock of mistle thrushes having a grand feast on our local yew berries.

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 42,892

    In the grounds where I work we have several large Sweet Chestnut trees that usually give us a really good crop of glossy fat brown chestnuts that I cook and freeze for Christmas.  This year they're falling before they're ripe, and they're small little wizened things.  I know that you usually get a few that haven't matured and that fall early, but the ground at work has been covered for the past few days.  It looks as if most of them didn't get pollinated image.  This will be disastrous for the birds and squirrels that usually depend on them.  We usually get quite a few local jays collecting the sweet chestnuts, and I heard on the radio that here in Norfolk we're getting large flocks of jays coming across from the Continent already because they've had a poor 'harvest' of nuts and acorns.  I don't think they'll find things much different here image

    Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes. 
  • Where I live in South Yorkshire, the holly, cottoneaster and pyrocantha bushes are absolutely laden with berries (and another hedging plant that I'm not sure what it is).

    I was told when I was younger that the more berries these plants produce, the harsher the winter is going to be - God is providing the food to fatten the birds up before he sends the snow.

    The oats are a very good idea, as is buying the bargain bags of dried fruit.  I have the peanuts and fat balls out already, as we've just started getting ground frosts, I must remember to put out some of the 'value' sultanas out for the blackbirds.  I also put out the cores from the apples my little ones eat, rather than composting them, the birds need them more than I do.

    Dovefromabove, do you just scatter the oats on your lawn, or put them in a pile on your bird table?

  • Zoomer44Zoomer44 Posts: 2,909

    I only have a small garden and nothing which produces berries at this time of year. There are some flower seed heads which birds tend to eat but to attract birds I usually feed them.

    This year I started off with good intentions to feed all year round but with one thing or another stopped towards the end of the spring. Birds coming to the garden began to taper off over the summer, but, after starting to feed again a couple of weeks ago, expecting it to be a while before the birds came back again, was surprised to find quite a lot  at the weekend feeding at the two stations in the garden. I'm trying different feeds, and not very good at identifying what the birds are but the birds which have come back aren't the usual brown with speckled chests and a bit dull in colour. They are eating seeds rather than fat balls and love fruity muesli with nothing added. Giving it a whirl in the liquiser breaks it up into smaller pieces and makes it easier for them to eat. I've also got a couple of bird baths. 

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 42,892

    MMP, it wasn't me who puts oats out, it was Caroline Smithimage 

    Zoomer, great, it's really important to keep the birdbaths filled image

    Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes. 
  • hollie hockhollie hock Posts: 3,295

    I have some ivy growing through a boundary fence, last year blackbirds loved feeding on it. I've left it alone this year and can see the berries developing. Thanks Dove  for the reminder- I will put out other food this Autumn and Winter also. I normally put out fat balls, general seed but i will give the cheap raisins a go as well

  • Jean GenieJean Genie Posts: 1,724

    I'm pleased to see a greater number of blackbirds visiting our garden and oddly enough they are feeding from the bird table not the cotoneaster which is laden with berries. Maybe they are saving them for harsher times.  There has been a little robin singing it's heart out this morning . Lovely sound to wake up to. image

  • Muddle-UpMuddle-Up Posts: 9,385

    It's cold and wetly frosty up here in Aberdeenshire ( does that make sense? ) and I've been out in the garden this morning for a couple of hours, accompanied by 'my' robin, who regularly stops my work so he can fossick through the wheelbarrow and I can just stand back and admire him.  It's been a dreadful year for crops - we've had NO apples from our four trees ( and that's a 'first' in 24 years of living here ), no gooseberries, no blackcurrants, no white currants ( all of which we grow for the blackbirds consumption and not ours ) and pathetic crops of berries on our four rowans.  It's been grim. Even the viburnum opulus has provided not one single berry.  There are some goodly hips forming on my Rosa complicata but the blackbirds will soon make short work of those.

    The birds are my main priority through winter and I will do everything I can to make sure that everyone gets a fair and suitable share.  Own-Brand oats are dead cheap and I usually make them into a porridge with warm water and scraps, bacon rind, raisins or currants ( also the cheaper 'own brand' type ) left over bits of cheese gratings, chopped up apples from the fruit bowl that have passed their best for we humans...I also put out fat balls, seed, peanuts, coconut halves crammed with melted and re-set lard ( cheap ) with added seeds and nuts and scraps.And, of course, bread, which may not be nutritious but it fills little feathered bellies when there's not much else on offer.

    Our gardens - indeed our lives - without birds - wouldn't be worth the living, at least that's what I think.  Their toughest time of year is coming up.  Let's all do what we can.  It doesn't have to break the bank.

    'Every Spring is the only Spring, a perpetual astonishment.'
    Ellis Peters 🌸
  • Caz WCaz W Posts: 1,353

    MMP - I put some oats on the bird table and some on the ground as our blackbirds don't usually go on the table.  I bought some pears last week and threw the cores out and the blackbirds went crazy for them.  Knew they liked apples but this seemed a real treatimage

    Brenda - love that word "fossick" - never heard it before.

  • Caz WCaz W Posts: 1,353

    Zoomer - there is a free booklet you can get from the RSPB - "Birds in your Garden" which might help identify the different birds

  • Thanks Caroline, our pair of blackbirds are quite feisty and often visit the bird table, I will try both the table and the bit of waste ground that passes for 'lawn'.  Hoping to attract more birds into the garden (at the moment it's just the sparrows who descend like the hoardes of Ghengis Khan on the feeders), I've heard if you're like me and a bit squeamish about putting out mealworms, you can use grated suet (cheaper if you get it from the local butchers too).  I try to put this under the hedge, in case a robin ventures into the garden, as I've heard they are only ground feeders.  I suppose I need to increase the range of food in my garden if I want lots of different species to look at.

    DovefromAbove, sorry to get you mixed up, you are normally such a fount of knowledge (and pass it on without sounding as though you're lecturing), I just assumed it was in the original post. 

    Now all I need is to raid the back of the sofa for some money, then I'm off to poundstretcher/wilkos/aldi.

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 42,892

    image Mummy Muddy Paws, you are so kind - thank you image

    Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes. 
  • Gary HobsonGary Hobson Posts: 1,892

    I have several pyracanthas in my garden. I took this snap (and posted it on another thread) just a week ago. It has been loaded with berries...

    I took this snap yesterday morning. About half the berries have already gone...

     I took this snap yesterday afternoon, and it shows where the berries have been going...

    Within a couple more weeks, all of those berries will have gone. The cupboard will be bare before Winter has even begun.

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