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Talkback: Garden bird care in winter

I'm trying to do my bit for the birds as well, unfortunately we have run out of seed and cannot get to the shops at present(snowed in). I have been putting out bread crumbs, fat that I've cut off slices of ham, rehydrated sultanas cut into small pieces and shredded suet. They have eaten all the bread and fat, but have not touched the sultanas or suet, any ideas why?


  • I have put out stale mincepies containing dried fruits and a small amount of suet. Every crumb (pastry and fruit) has been eaten.
  • Living in suburbia and keen on house maintenance, I know there is always water available in guttering. Except in the most severe weather, the south facing roof will always thaw during the day providing water. As gardeners what birds need most, is cover from the weather and predators. So evergreens come into their own at this time of year and every garden should have at least one. Also the leaf litter below is usually free of frost so it is here I dispense a chopped desert apple to please the robin and his fellow thrushes. However the bird bath can be very entertaining, so well worthwhile filling with hot water.
  • re the frozen water for birds, I have put a pot saucer on some bricks and put a candle underneath helps to keep water free from ice.
  • I am writing from Estonia and in here winters with temperatures below zero are normal. I have never heard anyone here trying to give water to birds in winter, it is pointless, as it will freeze in a moment. There is, however, one important thing to remember - do not give anything salted to birds: no ham or minced meat you eat (because there is salt in it). This is what children here are taught already in kindergartens and schools - if you give fat or sunflower seeds or something else to birds, make sure that it is not salted, otherwise the birds will die in thirst.
  • Thank you Maarja. I have taken note of your comment.
  • The salt content is a very good point, but I have watched birds in my garden eating snow to avoid thirst, and this must bring their body temperatures down, when I do melt and top up the bird bath it is quickly used by sparrows, blue tits, robins and many others, so I do think it's worthwhile to keep doing this in cold snaps, especially if they have already come to rely on you!
  • We live in North Germany.
    Have you noticed how few birds there are this year?
    We normally have temps of -10 to -20C°
    and every year we feed many birds, going through at least 20kg of bird feed EVERY year.
    So far this year up to 13 Jan we have only used about 5 kg bird feed although IT IS NOT REALLY ALL THAT COLD HERE, average -5 C or so, A lot of people have noticed that there are not as many birds as normal, friends in UK say same.

    Is this Normal or are we mistaken?
    Thank you
  • To be fair as a statistician rather than an ornithologist, the answer could be that because your temperatures are not as low, the birds are not as hungry and are staying in their normal habitats?

    We have had loads of birds in Oxford, with Redwings and Blackcaps joining in with our normal birds to feed.
  • Providing water for birds is important not only for drinking but also feather care. This winter in south wales I have seen redwing in the garden for the ist time in years. Also much larger numbers of mistle and song thrush than normal.
  • Here in Richmond, North Yorkshire, I have put out lots of seeds, there are many birds, but some days the birds do not seem to be interested in them, they seem to like the wholemeal grain bread though.
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