Winter Garden Birds

Wildlife watch with Danielle Rouse

Bay is delighted to welcome Danielle Rouse on board as our resident ornithologist in 2019. Dan is a passionate conservationist, with a keen interest in ornithology. She lives on the South Wales coast where she spends much time observing the birds of the wetlands, coast and other wildlife. Dan travels extensively sharing her passion through her writing and videos.

During the winter months, our garden visitors become more reliant on us as a food source due to the lack of natural food. It’s a brilliant time to observe birds visiting garden feeders from the comfort of your own home, where you can enjoy watching their social interactions with one another. The number of regular visitors may increase in the winter months due to youngsters from the breeding season following their parents around looking for food and larger migratory species that spend winter here, also arriving in our gardens.

Long-tailed Tits are probably the most charismatic of the tit family, and are a delight to see in our gardens. They prefer to feast on peanut or fat ball feeders using their long feet to grip hold of mesh or bar feeders – please remember to remove fat balls from the plastic mesh before putting out for the birds. They’re often seen feeding amongst hawthorn trees where they can perform their aerial acrobatics. Likewise, we often see Goldcrests amongst the trees with the Long-tailed Tits as they often feed on the same natural foods.

 So why do we see so many Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests together? That’s because they travel around in social groups or ‘roaming flocks’, these flocks stay together to feed during the day but also to communally roost together during the winter nights. These species have very little fat on their bodies and weigh between 4-5g; they will huddle together during the night with the birds on the outside of the group, moving to the middle in turn, in order for them to share being on the outside.

Other small birds that visit our garden feeders are Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits that prefer to feed on our tube feeders of mixed grain. Goldfinches love sunflower hearts and Chaffinches, Greenfinches and less com-monly Brambling preferring a mix of sunflower and larger seeds which they crush with their beaks.

Winter months bring Thrushes to the UK. Blackbirds embrace our UK climate travelling from Scandinavia; there is an easy way to spot Scandinavian birds – the males have a grey fringe-like effect to their underbellies. It’s not only more Blackbirds that visit us during the winter here in Swansea, Redwing and Fieldfares are amongst the 6 species of thrush that are recorded during the winter. Redwing are often seen in large groups travelling amongst the rowan or hawthorn trees, whereas Fieldfare, Mistle and Song Thrushes prefer to rustle through the leaves on the ground in search of inverteb-rates and slimy slugs to feed on once the berries have left the trees.

Another notable bird that is often heard but not seen in our gardens during the winter is the Tawny Owl. Probably the most recognisable call of any owl is that of a Tawny Owl. Male Tawny Owls make a drawn ‘hoooo’ followed by a phrase of ‘huhuhuhoooo’ – the call you associate as the noise of an owl. Female Tawney Owls make a ‘keewik’ call which is often a contact call to commun-icate to a male or their young, as opposed to holding a territ-ory and showing off as the male owl does. They’re not a species that you can actively feed in your gardens as they mostly eat small mammals such as mice and voles, but you can encourage them in other ways. If you live next to a large wooded area, place a tawny owl box in your garden or adjacent woodlands. This species is under recorded and it’s not quite clear how many of these wonderful owls are left in the UK but one thing we know for sure is that trees and woodlands are in decline so a need for artificial nesting areas is sometimes required.

Things for the kids!

Why not make your own fat ball feeders – they are really simple to make: Combine a mixture of vegetable suet with a bird seed mix and mash them all together. Take a length of string and tie a loop at one end. Using an old yoghurt pot or empty coconut shell as a mould, put the string into the bottom and fill with the seed and suet mix ensuring that the string is completely covered but that the loop is hanging over the side. Put into the fridge to set – when they have set solid, break the yoghurt pot open, to reveal the fat ball. Hang from a bird feeder or tree.


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