Garden bird care in winter

by Adam Pasco

The danger of frozen water pipes is on my mind during this freezing weather, but I'm also concerned that garden birds are suffering, too.

Defrosting frozen water in a bird bath with hot water from a kettleThe danger of frozen water pipes is on my mind during this freezing weather, but I'm also concerned that garden birds are suffering, too.

Water in my bird bath quickly turns into a solid sheet of ice on cold nights, and hasn't been thawing out during the day either, as temperatures struggle to get above zero!

Feeders are replenished with seed and nuts as levels drop, ensuring there is a good supply of these 'high energy' feeds for the many blue tits, great tits, sparrows and starlings actively pecking away, and the blackbirds and robins scurrying around below.

However, birds must have a supply of water, too, so whenever I boil myself a kettle to make a cup of tea I always pop outside with the remaining boiling water to pour onto ice in the bird bath. During the worst weather I've needed a whole kettle of boiling water to melt the ice completely.

It's surprising how quickly birds find this fresh supply of water, but anyone who doesn't have a bird bath can simply fill a plant saucer or bowl with water and stand it on the patio instead.

I remember the Big Freeze of 1963 very well - enjoying deep snow as a young boy - and do recall finding dead pigeons in our garden that must have frozen to death! Quite how any birds survive outside during such cold weather is difficult to understand, but at least I'll try and play my part by ensuring food and water are always available.

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Garden bird care in winter
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 11/01/2010 at 12:33

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?

Gardeners' World Web User 11/01/2010 at 13:23

I have put out stale mincepies containing dried fruits and a small amount of suet. Every crumb (pastry and fruit) has been eaten.

Gardeners' World Web User 11/01/2010 at 17:06

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.

Gardeners' World Web User 11/01/2010 at 23:26

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.

Gardeners' World Web User 12/01/2010 at 08:32

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.

See more comments...