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What birds are up to in your garden this winter

PUBLISHED: 14:57 29 January 2018

Great Tit emerging from a nest box which they can use to roost in during winter months (Photo by Gillian Day)

Great Tit emerging from a nest box which they can use to roost in during winter months (Photo by Gillian Day)


Winter is an ideal time to observe the wild birds coming to feed in your garden and get to grips with the complex world of bird etiquette, says Sally Welbourn of Dorset Wildlife Trust

Let’s get ready to rumble

Birds have evolved their behaviour to enable them to survive, feed, raise their young, and socialise. The robin may be small but this colourful bird can be downright aggressive in certain situations. They will ‘puff’ themselves up to twice their size to show their dominance over other birds. That sweet melodious song gives a clear warning to any potential usurpers that this is their patch, so ‘get off my land’! In short, robins, voted the UK’s favourite garden bird in 2015, will fight to the death over their territory. And unlike many other birds who migrate to warmer climes for the winter, the robin stays firmly in the UK. At ease around humans, these feisty fighters will often perch on the top of a spade watching for any juicy grubs or worms you uncover whilst working in the garden.

Who lives in a house like this?

Where do birds go at night? The first priority is to be away from predators and to stay warm, so anything completely enclosed is best, such as a nest box in a garden. If you put up a nest box, ensure it is away from direct sunlight and that there is a clear ‘flight path’ in front of it. If a nest box isn’t an option, then the small nooks and crannies in the smallest branches of trees or even roofs or sheds are the next best roosting spot. If garden birds find a place they feel safe in, they can stay for prolonged periods of time.

Birds will do anything to survive, especially in the colder winter months. They can turn up in the strangest of places to sleep or eat, you may even see rare species in your garden if the conditions are right and there is food, water and shelter for them. You can buy nest boxes and feeders online at dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/shop. If you create a safe space where birds can feed, breed and roost the chances are that they will come!

The hunger games

One of the biggest challenges for birds in winter is finding enough food, as there is always competition for the readily available snacks we put out in our gardens. The jay has taken inspiration from the squirrel and buries acorns when they are plentiful in the autumn, retrieving them when food is in short supply. While the bearded tit is able to adapt its digestive system in late autumn to cope with a different diet of reed seeds, after enjoying insects all summer. However, that’s not to say that insects aren’t around in the winter – they just take a different form as eggs or larvae, which are a little trickier to find. The tit family are particularly skilled at seeking out these well-hidden morsels from cracks in tree branches, using entertaining acrobatics to get to the tasty prize.

Birds of a feather flock together

Birds tend to stick together at this time of year – and it’s not unusual to see hundreds of flocking birds at about 4pm as the sun sets on a winter’s day. Coming together as a flock is essential for survival: they can hunt for food together, confuse predators, and stay warm. It’s also a spectacular sight to see birds in such huge numbers creating wonderful shapes in the sky as they find a roost. Of particular note are starling flocks which form a fantastic acrobatic mass of thousands of birds –known as a murmuration – before roosting on reedbeds or manmade structures such as piers.

Take Part in The Big Garden Birdwatch

This is the world’s largest wildlife survey and last year over half a million of us observed over 8 million birds. All you need to do is set aside an hour from 28–30 January 2018 to count the birds that come into your garden, local park or green space. To find out more visit ww2.rspb.org.uk.


Winter walks in Dorset - When the weather gets colder, there’s not much more refreshing than a brisk walk across the countryside, and there’s plenty of that here in Dorset…


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