Birds need friendly neighbours!

01 Jan 2010 | No. 2010-01-01

Snow that is sweeping the country is not only causing havoc for humans…it could be impacting birds too! A blanket of snow and ice is making it hard for birds to find natural foods.

  Dunnock feeding on apples

Last winter was the coldest in the UK for 12 years and heavy snowfall in February 2009 caused chaos across the UK. Now, however, we are amidst the longest period of freezing weather since 1981 and birds, as well as people, could be suffering. As natural foods become harder to find, food provided by householders might be essential to the survival of some birds. Results from BTO Garden BirdWatch demonstrate that during heavy snow last February the abundance of ground feeding species, such as Chaffinch, peaked in gardens as they utilised food that was provided.

Ground feeding species can find it almost impossible to find food under the snow and ice. Providing ground-up peanuts and seeds, finely grated cheese and suet, and chunks of fresh fruit (e.g. apples and pears) can help these species during this difficult time.

Other birds will be struggling too and providing a wide selection of food will attract a wider variety of birds and perhaps rarer species, such as Redwing, Fieldfare and Brambling. Smaller species, such as Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit and Wren, will favour high calorie fat-based foods, an alternative to their insectivorous diet that may help them through the worst of the weather.

All birds in gardens will benefit from water in bird baths being defrosted and replaced with clean, fresh water for drinking and bathing. During freezing conditions it is even more important to keep insulating feathers in tip-top condition.

As Dr Tim Harrison, Garden BirdWatch Development Officer at the BTO, commented “Winter feeding has been shown to increase survival rates of many different species of birds across the world. In Blue Tit such feeding can even have a positive influence on breeding success in the following spring. Therefore, by providing the right kind of foods in gardens now, householders could help birds in both the short and long term.”

He added “If snow has kept you closer to home than you had anticipated recently, why not cast an eye out of your window and watch the birds in your garden. Around 15,000 participants in BTO Garden BirdWatch do just that throughout the year and are currently providing a vital insight into the use of gardens by birds during severe winter weather.”

If you would like a free guide on feeding garden birds or if you are interested in joining BTO Garden BirdWatch please phone 01842 750050, email gbw [at] () or write to BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

Notes for Editors


  • Peanuts – ground-up and scattered on bird tables and the ground
  • Seed (e.g. sunflower hearts) – on bird tables and the ground
  • Cheese, beef or vegetable suet – grated finely and scattered on bird tables and the ground
  • Chunks of windfall (especially) or fresh fruit – ground
  • Dried fruit (that has been soaked first), NOTE can be toxic to dogs – ground
  • Mealworms and other live-foods (alive or dried) – in trays on the ground
  • Beef or vegetable suet-based foods (e.g. commercial fat cakes impregnated with insects) – suspend
  • Seed (e.g. sunflower hearts) and peanuts – suspend

Note:Peanuts and seeds are best purchased from a quality supplier that tests these foods for possible toxins
(e.g. some foods are endorsed by the BTO).

  1. The BTO is the UK’s leading bird research organisation. Over thirty thousand birdwatchers contribute to the BTO’s surveys. They collect information that forms the basis of conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Norfolk and Stirling, who analyse and publicise the results of project work. The BTO’s investigations are funded by government, industry and conservation organisations.
  2. The BTO Garden BirdWatch is the only nationwide survey of garden birds to run weekly throughout the year, providing important information on how birds use gardens, and how this use changes over time. Currently, some 15,000 people take part in the project. The project is funded by participants’ contributions and is the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world. For more information see

Contact information

Tim Harrison (BTO Garden Birdwatch Development Officer)
Office: 01842 750050 (9am to 5.30pm)
Email: gbw [at]

Paul Stancliffe (BTO Press Officer)
Office: 01842 750050 (9am to 5.30pm)
Email: press [at]

Jeff Baker (Head of Marketing)
Office: 01842 750050 (9am to 5.30pm)
Email: press [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release
Please contact images [at] quoting reference 2010-01-07.

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews
Please contact us to book an interview
Office: 01842 750050

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