Feeding birds in winter


I do hope you haven’t burned your Christmas tree yet, or thrown away? Just discard it somewhere in your garden and watch how it will become the hiding spot and shelter for birds in winter, whilst you marvel at their fascinating behaviour and wonderful colours. Your children will be enthused about this aspect of wildlife: indoor bird watching with eagle eyes. Look at our main picture, even the wood pecker came to feed.

Of course, nothing can beat a native hedgerow or a couple of fruit trees, to provide natural proteins and vitamins for our lovely bird friends. Just let your plants go to seed. Don’t prune shrubs until late in winter. Mulch your flowerbeds with dead leaves, to keep invertebrates near the surface. Look at these starlings feeding themselves on some sharons we left on the tree:


Or look at this one, we think it’s a nuthatch:


And the blue tit:


Although we have here, at the moment in the South of France, really nice weather, insects do become dormant now and thus become unavailable to the birds. When winter surprises us with harsh weather conditions or heavy snowfall, it becomes even worse for our feathered friends.

What a luxury it is, to enjoy wildlife in the comfort of your home, offering them food for wintertime survival. Don’t get too cocky, you’ll never be the only food source they’ll rely on, you’ll just be part of their daily fixed route through the neighbourhood!

My husband always tells me the story about his dad, having a tame robin who used to come in the conservatory and jumped on his feet. Sitting outside, he pecked on the window, to make his father aware he was there, waiting, demanding food. He really could hand-feed him. As you know, you only see one robin in one area. The most amazing thing is, that all the robins in that area, all did the same, the little ones must have copied that behavior from their parents. So if there would be a robin in your area, remember, they can be hand-fed once they know you offer food and are used to seeing you around in the garden.

If you want to offer birds a winter banquet, go ahead, provide high calorie and high fat foods in those lovely decorative feeders or tit balls, giving the birds a place to perch. Some warning though, I don’t want to be as wise as an owl, but don’t forget it should also be a place where they can hide from predators.

As we have loads of squirrels, I put cobs of corn in different locations to avoid them raiding our bird feeders, keeping in mind they can leap as far as six feet!! Sparrow hawks live in our region too and as they love eating birds, I place my feeders away from our fence, so they cannot sneak up on the birds or ambush them. Having big windows, I like to avoid, prevent collisions, so I hang my wind chimes in front of them. You can also hang streamers.


Yesterday we even had an exhausted little wren in the house, don’t even ask me how it managed to fly in, luckily we rescued it before our dogs had a go at it!

These feeders will be needed till late spring, as insects haven’t yet started to emerge and birds still have a difficult time to find food.

Before even talking about what to put in those feeders, a big warning: clean and sterilize them regularly and wear gloves when doing so. Not only is salmonella widespread in wild birds, but you’ll minimize conditions that could foster disease amongst your birdie friends, such as mildew or mold.

Now what do we give our little friends, to store the fat they need to keep warm through the season? Let’s start with some big no no’s. Bread, forget it, as it has no nutritional value, can get moldy and so harm birds! Don’t buy mixed seeds for birds, it’s only full of fillers such as red millet, not eaten by the birds and left to rot on the ground! Avoid peanut butter, high in sugar and salt. Thistle seed is rich, but can go rancid or mold in wet weather, not to talk about their germinating power offering your garden an abundance of thistles…

Give them nutritious food, loved by different types of birds, such as black oil sunflower seeds, having higher oil content than other sunflower seeds. Of course you can’t beat suet, use ice-cube trays to make your own blends (internet provides loads of mixes) for your visiting flock. Add some peanuts as they are rich in fat, don’t freeze and appeal to many birds. Raisins, currants, dates, blueberries, cherries, cranberries and apples will do as well. Spoil them with banana slices, halved grapes and melon rinds.


Good luck with it, have wonderful moments of bird watching!


Feeling as free as a bird, as happy as a lark



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