How to lay on a Christmas dinner for the birds

A robin and a tit feed from a bird table in the snow

By December, Christmas is everywhere. With tinsel and fairylights draped over every surface, chestnuts roasting on street stalls and Christmas carollers singing into the night, it’s natural to want everyone to feel included – even the birds.

A robin and a tit feed from a bird table in the snow

Set the perfect Christmas table

Mid winter is a bleak time for birds as the countryside has been stripped bare of berries and seeds and insects are in short supply just as birds need more energy to stay warm and have less daylight hours to find food. Putting on on a festive spread for your wild neighbours is a lovely way to spread glad tidings.

Christmas is a time for feasting and birds need high-energy food over winter. But, as with any dinner guest, it’s essential to adhere to their dietary requirements. Cooled fat mixed with meat juices can easily smear onto birds’ feathers and interfere with their waterproofing and insulation. Birds need to keep their feathers clean and dry to survive but a layer of oil would make this impossible. Grease is the word but not when it comes to birds.

Many of your kitchen scraps and Christmas leftovers make ideal snacks for birds visiting your garden and can help them get the calories need to pull through.

Birds will happily polish off leftover, alcohol-free, Christmas cake (stale cake is best) or crumbs of biscuit from the bottom of the tin and mince pie. If you’d like to treat your garden birds to their own Christmas cake we suggest mixing bird seed, nuts and raisins together with lard, squashing it in and around a pinecone, then hanging it with string from a tree.

Hard, grated cheese is a favourite with robins, dunnocks, blackbirds and song thrushes. It will also help wrens if placed under hedgerows and other areas in your garden where you have noticed them feeding. Don’t feed blue or very strong cheeses.

Pastry, whether cooked or uncooked, is excellent especially if it has been made with real fats.

Most garden birds will eat cold and opened up roast potatoes.

Excess or bruised apples, pears and other fruit are very popular with thrushes, tits and starlings. Cut them up and leave them on the bird table or on the ground.

Blackbirds, song thrushes and robins love to eat dried fruits such as raisins, sultanas and currants. Don’t put out dried fruit if you have a dog as vine fruits can be deadly toxic to them.

Here’s a few more golden rules for feeding birds:

  • Don’t put out salty foods. Birds can’t digest salt and it will damage their nervous systems. 
  • at from roasting tins can quickly go rancid if its left in a warm kitchen before being put outside which forms the ideal breeding ground for food poisoning bacteria like salmonella – fatal to birds.
  • Only leave enough that can be eaten in one day  
  • Always follow hygiene measures, including washing hands thoroughly after filling and washing feeders. 

Ensuring your garden is filled with food now will improve your chances of having a successful Big Garden Birdwatch. The RSPB’s annual event runs from January 28-30. All you need to do is spend one hour at any time over that weekend noting the number of birds landing in your garden or nearby park or green space.