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.
Winter-flowering honeysuckle smells amazing and is perfect for covering walls and fences. It produces flowers in the depths of winter that are filled with nectar, attracting plenty of tasty insects for the birds.
This is another shrub that produces lots of tasty red berries for birds. It adds good colour and structure to the garden too.
Malus Golden Hornet
This crab apple tree produces plenty of bright orange baubles that stay on the tree until the frosts break them apart. Then the birds can get at the tasty seeds inside.
This is often called firethorn because the orange berries look like flames. It can be grown as a shrub or trained as a climber.
Birds love to eat the tasty berries and perch on the branches among the evergreen foliage.
These beautiful trees look great in any garden, with their pale bark and delicate leaves. But they keep on giving in winter with catkins that bear their seeds.
Many species of bird will love to eat these catkins as they dangle from the branches.
You can also supplement the natural food sources for birds with high-fat feed, like these suet balls!