Local wildlife needs a helping hand more than ever, and there’s plenty we can do in our own gardens to encourage birds, especially in winter. Take a moment to pause, the notice nature and consider how you could garden for wildlife. Here are some of the birds you could see in your garden this winter.
Common name: Starling
Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris
Smaller than a blackbird, Starlings are one of our most common garden birds. Males and females are quite similar, appearing black/brown in colour from a distance but if you get a closer look, they have a beautiful purple and green sheen. You can see Starlings all year round in the UK, but they are one of the stars of winter when they are often seen in large roosts on rooftops or forming mesmerising murmurations in the sky.
What they eat: Starlings are very easy to cater for and will eat invertebrates and berries. Try feeding suet pellets, mealworms or suet fat balls.
Common Name: Jay
Scientific Name: Garrulus glandarius
A large, pinkish-brown coloured member of the crow family, Jay’s are a nice, easy species to spot in winter as their bright-blue wing patch can be seen against the dull winter canvas. They are a resident and found all over the UK, (except for Scotland) all-year-round and are often in their pairs as they form a life-long bond.
What they eat: Jay’s will eat acorns seeds, berries and insects and even some small mammals and baby birds. Known for burying acorns in the ground and remembering where they have been hidden, it is thought that Jays play an important role in the spread of oak woodlands!
Common Name: Robin
Scientific Name: Garrulus glandarius
Our winter wildlife icon and officially the UK’s favourite bird, the robin is a familiar sight with its bright red breast and joyful song. These little guys are aggressively defensive and will hold a territory all year round, in fact, their red markings are thought to be a warning to intruders rather than a courtship tactic. Robins can start courtship in January in a mild winter, pairing only for the breeding season.
What they eat: Entice robins into your garden by leaving food on a bird table, as they are ground feeders, just make sure you clean off any mouldy food regularly as this can be dangerous for birds. Robins eat a varied diet, you can buy a bird feed mix for small birds or try leaving out foods such as fruit, mealworms, grated cheese, suet or sunflower seeds.
Common Name: Goldfinch
Scientific Name: Carduelis carduelis
Easily recognisable, with a red face and yellow wing patch, the goldfinch is a sociable bird often seen in flocks, known as a Charm. You’ll probably hear their twittering song projecting from the top of a small tree, before you see them.
What they eat: Goldfinches have a short and powerful beak, making them specialist seed-eaters. They are well-adapted to extract seeds from thistles and lavender. To welcome goldfinches into your garden invest in a specialist feeder for smaller seeds like nyjer.
Common Name: Chaffinch
Scientific name: Fringilla coelebs
A regular visitor to gardens across the UK, the male chaffinch is one of the most colourful garden birds with an orange- pink breast and grey cap. Females are a dull brown with hints of green.
What they eat: They prefer to feed on bird tables, on the ground or under hedges and feed on seeds an insects.
Common Name: Nuthatch
Scientific name: Sitta europaea
Another brightly coloured bird you can see in your garden in winter, especially if you have some large trees and shrubs, is the Nuthatch. They are a blue-grey colour with an orange breast and are a small woodpecker-like shape with a long beak. One of easiest ways to recognise a nuthatch is by its trademark upside down position, hanging from twigs and branches. They are often seen crawling down tree trunks, sucking up the insects as they go.
What they eat: Entice nuthatches into your garden by planting lots of shrubs and trees. As well as insects, they will eat acorns and hazel nuts. Try spreading bird-friendly peanut butter on tree trunks for your local nuthatches to hunt-out!
7. House Sparrow
Common Name: House Sparrow
Scientific name: Passer domesticus
A mainly brown and grey bird, the house sparrow is a familiar sight in towns, cities and gardens, although they have suffered dramatic declines in the last 100 years. House sparrows tend to build their nests in crevices in buildings and houses, but they can nest deep within a hedge or a conifer tree.
What they eat: House Sparrows will visit your garden hanging bird feeders or tables for a wide variety of seeds and are often seen eating scraps of food from the floor.
8. Blue Tit
Common Name: Blue Tit
Scientific name: Cyanistes caeruleus
The blue tit is a delightful little garden bird with bright blue and yellow feathers. They will nest in the trees in your garden or you can welcome blue tits by putting up nest boxes and adding bird baths.
What they eat: Caterpillars are their favourite food but they will eat mixed bird seed, peanuts or fat balls and are regular visitors to garden bird feeders.
9. Long-tailed Tit
Common Name: Long-tailed Tit
Scientific name: Aegithalos caudatus
The clue is in the name, this small bird has a long black and white tail with a white and pink back. The long-tailed tit is an accomplished nest-builder, crafting a domed nest out of moss and lined with hundreds of feathers in a hedge or in the fork of a tree. They don’t migrate and are very social birds, in winter you’ll see them in flocks or foraging for food in your garden alongside other small birds.
What they eat: The Long-tailed tit is an insectivore and can often be seen pecking at leaves on hedges for overwintering butterfly and moth eggs and insects. Provide mealworms and fat balls to supplement their natural diet
Common Name: Blackbird
Scientific name: Turdus mercula
Blackbirds are a regular visitor to gardens in winter and our mostly seen hopping across lawns, feasting on earthworms. Males are entirely black with a striking bright yellow beak and eye rings, but the females are a more subdued, dark brown colour.
What they eat: Entice blackbirds into your garden with natural, lawned areas rather than artificial grass and plant fruit trees to provide raspberries, blackberries and cherries.
Common Bird: Redwing
Scientific name: Turdud iliacus
With an orange-red underwing, the Redwing only visits the UK in winter and is the smallest of the thrush family. It is most often seen in the countryside, but when the weather is very cold and snowy they will venture into gardens for berries, especially hawthorn and rowan.
What they eat: Plant plenty of native hedges with berries to help these threatened birds through the tough winter months.
Common name: Waxwing
Scientific name: Bombycilla garrulus
Lucky gardeners may even tempt Waxwings during the winter months. With exotic-looking red and yellow plumage, these rare birds cause great excitement with birders when they visit parts of the UK.
What they eat: They are often seen feeding on berries on cotoneaster hedging.
Where do birds go in the winter?
Although bare silhouettes of branches make it easier for us to spot garden birds at this time of year, the short, dark days can make it seem like there are much fewer birds around in winter. There’s certainly less birdsong filling our gardens in winter, birds show-off their singing talents to attract mates in the main breeding season during Spring, with most birds going their separate ways. During winter, most garden birds stay silent to conserve their energy as their food sources deplete. In Spring our bird feeders are busy with parents busily feeding a brood of hungry chicks back in the nest.
Most of our garden birds are residents all-year-round, but some species such as swallows and swifts leave to spend the winter in Africa. There are several species of bird that head to the UK from Northern Europe in winter, notably large flocks of geese, swans and ducks. These are mostly water birds that head to large estuaries or wetland areas, rather than filling our gardens.
How do birds keep warm in winter?
Birds are warm-blooded animals, so they need some clever adaptations to help them survive the bitter cold. Their feather’s provide insulation, with many species growing extra feathers before the winter and moulting in Spring. On sunny winter days, you might notice birds basking in the sun, perhaps even holding their wings out slightly to try and heat their skin efficiently. Many small birds will keep warm in empty nest boxes or gather in large flocks at night and crowd together in hedges, in a small, compact space to share warmth.
To help birds stay warm in winter, offer high energy food sources such as suet or peanuts and provide shelter by planting evergreen hedges and shrubs.
How to care for birds in winter?
Planting for wildlife
One of the best ways to look after garden birds in winter is to plan ahead and let nature provide. In the last 50 years we have lost more than half of the hedgerows in the UK, so planting one in your garden will really help wildlife. Hedges provide dense foliage as a perfect shelter for birds to nest in, branches decorated with an abundance of berries provide a welcome source of food, and plants with spiny foliage can protect birds from predators and keep their nests safe.
The fruit of trees like crab apple will attract a range of birds in winter and beyond. A range of ornamental trees and shrubs provide berries into early winter, and their flowers also offer nectar. Small birds such as blue tits and even blackcaps seek out these energy boosts from early or late-flowering mahonia.
Don’t forget to:
Keep your bird feeders topped up – birds and other wildlife need these extra supplies more than ever in the winter months.
Check your bird baths and ponds haven’t frozen over. To prevent these freezing over place a ball in the centre of the bird bath to keep the water flowing.
Avoid pruning and raking the fallen leaves – fallen leaves can keep hibernating wildlife warm and sheltered.
You can make a huge difference to local wildlife, simply by creating a nature-friendly garden. Not only beneficial to wildlife – the enjoyment you will get from spotting the new visitors to your garden will be a reward in itself! Take a look at our other gardening advice blogs here.