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Top 10 bird feeding tips this winter

Last modified: 24 December 2014

Fieldfare in snow with apples

A wrinkly old apple makes a great festive treat for thrushes like this fieldfare - a winter visitor from Scandinavia

Image: Steve Round

At this time of year, life can be tough for birds. A cold snap can mean they need more energy - just to keep warm - and the short days leave less time to find food. 

But you can give them a helping hand, whether you have a big garden or a small windowbox. Here are our top 10 bird feeding tips.

1. Know your birds

Different species eat different things. Sparrows and finches like seeds; tits like fat; and thrushes and robins like fruit and worms. And starlings will eat just about anything. Make sure you're providing the right menu for your diners - find out what to feed birds

(Not sure which birds are visiting you? Try our bird identifier)

2. Look out for leftovers...

Some of our own food can be good for birds – for example, fruit cake or mince pies, dried fruit, unsalted nuts, or apples and pears past their best. Try sprinkling grated mild cheese under trees and bushes for more timid birds like wrens and dunnocks.

Here's a fun family recipe for making special cake for birds.

3. But choose the right stuff...

Birds probably won't eat your unwanted Christmas Day sprouts. And putting out turkey fat is a big no-no - it's so soft it'll stick to birds' feathers and stop them from keeping waterproof and warm. Avoid anything mouldy or salty (too much salt is poisonous to small birds).

4. Don't poison your pets!

Birds love dried fruit. But if you have a dog, don't put grapes, currants, raisins or sultanas within their reach. Vine fruits can be toxic to dogs (check the RSPCA's advice).

5. Keep water in bird baths and ponds unfrozen

Birds need to drink and bathe every day - even when it's really cold outside. A pond or bird bath is great, but even an upturned bin lid or plant saucer can give birds the water they need. We've got lots of useful tips on how to keep water from freezing.

6. Put out the right amount of food

Only put out what will get eaten during the day. This is important if you want to avoid unwanted visitors like rats. It'll also mean that there aren't big piles of mouldy food on your bird table.

7. Keep it clean!

Dirty bird feeders and bird tables can help spread diseases. Make sure you clean them regularly to keep your visitors healthy and happy. And always wash your hands after feeding the birds!

8. Big Garden Birdwatch is coming...

The weekend of 24-25 January sees Big Garden Birdwatch, the world's biggest wildlife survey. If you're feeding the birds over the festive period, why not continue through January? All it takes is an hour of your time to watch the birds that use your garden - then just tell us what you saw.

9. and there's £5 off for you in our online shop 

If you register for Big Garden Birdwatch now, we'll give you a discount of £5 in our online shop and send you a free information pack to help you enjoy the event. You could maybe treat your garden visitors to something special!

10. Thank you for giving nature a home

By feeding the birds in your garden, on your balcony or at your window, you'll help them get through what can be a tough time of year. 

How about planning ahead and making your place even better for wildlife? Sign up for our Give nature a home project and we'll give you lots of tips and help. You could grow some insect-friendly flowers, make a nestbox, or create a home for a hedgehog. Have fun!

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.