The long, cold nights of winter are especially harsh for the little birds that live in your garden. Some birds pack up and migrate to warmer climates in Africa, but many stay behind in Britain, including tits, robins, starlings, sparrows, wagtails and finches.
While we snuggle up with a duvet and a hot chocolate, the birds have to brace the elements. To survive in freezing temperatures, birds need to eat lots of rich, high-fat food to keep their bodies warm. But that’s harder than ever when most plants are dying or winding down.
The good news is that you can help! Many beautiful and popular garden plants double up as life-saving natural food resources for garden birds. Their seeds and berries give birds a sweet snack, while others hide tasty insects in their stems and foliage.
The first rule of a wildlife garden is to leave it natural. Removing all dead stems, leaves and seed heads will eradicate natural habitats that your garden wildlife needs.
Leave stems with seed heads in place – they also give your garden good structure over winter and look great with a coating of frost.
Then add to your garden’s natural bounty. Here are the 10 best plants to feed birds in winter.
Holly bushes are great for evergreen garden colour and produce red berries in winter that the birds will love.
The spiky leaves give the birds protection from predators, meaning they will often roost among the branches. You can also cut some holly sprigs to bring indoors at Christmas.
Hedera helix has a reputation as a garden bully because it can quickly spread. But simple pruning will keep it in check, and planting it away from brickwork will prevent any damage.
Ivy produces blossom in late autumn that insects love, followed by rich berries that will feed loads of birds. The dense evergreen foliage also provides shelter, as well as covering garden fences.
Tuft-forming grasses grow in dense clumps and throw up tall, fluffy seed heads in autumn and winter. The seed heads and tufty foliage attract all manner of insects to hide from the winter cold. And the birds will love a bug feast!
Sorbus is another berry-bearing plant that birds will love. Its varieties include elder, rowan and hawthorn, all of which are popular native plants for birds.
This is often associated with wild gardens but the shapely seedheads are great for structure in any style garden. It’s a native plant and beloved of goldfinches, which have a fine beak for getting out the seeds.