How to help garden birds this winter

January can be a difficult time of year for wildlife, as the long cold nights continue and natural food sources become harder to find. Lorna Shaw, Biological Records Centre Co-ordinator at Essex Wildlife Trust gives us some simple tips on how to help garden birds this winter, plus how to record your sightings!

This is a time when small birds start to visit garden bird feeders, as a reliable source of energy rich food. A fresh water source can also be important to birds on freezing days, and providing a variety of different foods will increase your chances of seeing some new visitors to the garden.

Mealworms are good to attract robins, whilst seed mixes will attract Finches, House Sparrows and Woodpigeons. Finches often feed in mixed flocks, so if you have a regular party of Chaffinches and Goldfinches visiting your garden keep an eye out for rarer finches such as Bullfinches, Brambling, Siskins and Linnets in amongst the flock.

Peanuts and fat balls will attract starlings, often in large numbers as the resident birds are joined by new arrivals for the winter. Blue Tits and Great Tits will also visit these, and you may also see Long Tailed Tits, which flock together in family groups to stay warm at night. Small birds may also use nest boxes to roost in cold weather, perhaps with a view to coming back to nest in spring. Windfall fruit is also a popular winter food for Thrushes, and during very cold spells putting a few apples out in the garden may attract Redwings, Fieldfares or even Waxwings, all of which overwinter in Essex when there is harsh weather in continental Europe.

Whether you see your regular garden residents this winter or encounter new visitors, please let us know what you have seen by registering on our records website and submitting your sightings online. For us to use your records we need four pieces of information:

  • WHO saw it? (please note we do not pass recorder names on unless we need to query a record)
  • WHAT species did you see?
  • WHERE did you see it? (please give a place name, as there are a lot of “My Garden's” in Essex!)
  • WHEN did you see it?

Guidance on how to submit your records is available here. Records are shared with our partner organisations and used to benefit wildlife conservation, so submitting your sightings on a regular basis will help us to know more about what is happening in your area. Gardens are diverse habitats that are often under-recorded so please help us to fill in the gaps in our wildlife knowledge.