Winter can be an excellent time of year to get close up views of birds visiting the garden for food, water and shelter. It also provides an exciting opportunity to see some species which are only here during the winter months.

Following the breeding season and autumn migration, the community of birds in your garden may be different to the summer months. As well as our resident breeding birds, we are joined by migrants from Scandinavia, Russia and continental Europe.

Here is a list of my top species to look out for this winter and how you can help them.

You can help birds this winter

As the temperatures drop and natural food supplies dry up, expect to see more birds in your garden searching for food.

You can help your garden birds by:

  • putting out fresh, unfrozen water for drinking and bathing
  • providing fatty foods such as fat balls
  • leaving areas of your garden 'untidy' for shelter, such as hedges and ivy. 

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Recently voted Britain’s National Bird, the robin is, for some people, the epitome of winter. It is regularly used as a symbol for Christmas and all things festive. 

The robin is a common breeding bird and in winter our resident population is joined by European migrants.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Chaffinches are common breeding birds found in a wide range of habitats in Britain. They are well adapted to urban living so are a common sight in gardens.

Look out for chaffinches in woodlands too, where they feed on seeds.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)

Bramblings are similar in size to chaffinches and often travel in large mixed flocks.

These finches migrate to the UK during winter and tend to be found searching for mast in beech woodland.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Goldfinches are a common breeding bird often seen at feeders during winter. Their diet mainly consists of seeds, and niger seed in particular is a firm favourite.

Their unmistakable red masks make them easy to distinguish from other finches.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

Bullfinches are the most striking of British finches. The males are a vibrant pink and the females a duller brown, both with black caps.

They can often be seen at woodland edges but are also found in gardens, often in pairs or small groups.

Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

The dunnock is a common garden bird but is a bit more elusive than other species.

They're also known as hedge sparrows, and as this alternative name suggests, they tend to seek cover beneath thick vegetation.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

Goldcrests are one of Britain's smallest breeding birds. They tend to favour coniferous woodlands and gardens.

In winter they often join flocks of other small birds and are most frequently seen in the tree canopy. They have a distinctive gold stripe on their head, giving them their common name.

Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)

The blue tit is a resident breeding bird and has a similar diet to other birds in winter, favouring seeds and fats.

Famously, blue tits have been known to tap through the foil lids of freshly delivered doorstep milk to snatch a free meal.

Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

Long-tailed tits stick together. They raise their young and travel together in family groups, forming flocks with other small birds in winter.

Distinguishable by their prominent tail, they have become commonplace on garden feeders and particularly like fat balls.

Coal tit (Periparus ater)

Coal tits have a preference for conifer woodland, particularly during the breeding season.

Although they resemble the larger great tit, they can be identified by the white stripe down the back of the head and the light brown flanks.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

The nuthatch is spreading northwards across Britain and slowly becoming more common. It is, however, absent from Ireland.

Look out for it travelling down tree trunks in search of food, using its specially adapted feet to cling to rough surfaces.

Blackbird (Turdus merula)

As with other thrushes, during winter the UK's blackbird population is supplemented by migrants from the continent. These visitors can sometimes be identified by their darker bills.

It is thought resident birds may also migrate to warmer areas within Britain.

Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

Redwings migrate from northern Europe, Russia and Iceland to the UK in winter in search of berries and fruit bearing trees.

They are similar in size to blackbirds and song thrushes and can often been seen in mixed flocks with fieldfares. They have a distinct red flank and light brown eye stripe. 

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)

As with redwings, fieldfares migrate to the UK from northern Europe in winter and form large flocks.

They feed on berries, fruit and windfall apples and are most frequently seen in hedgerows surrounding farmland.

Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

Some years are better than others for arrivals of the UK's most glamorous wintering bird.

Waxwings migrate from the boreal forests of continental Europe to spend their winters with us in search of rowan and other berries.

Attract birds to your garden

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Learn more about birds and winter feeding