Top 10 Garden Bird winter activities.

Why not get working on a list of activities to brighten up the shorter winter hours of daylight?  You can even carry on into the night hours, witnessing the migration of winter thrushes calling out through cold and dark skies.

A little preparation is advised for any winter  bird watching.  Wrap up warm and and try and pick a dry day or evening for fieldwork.  Pack a knapsack with a warm drink and some nibbles.  A notebook is essential and a pair of binoculars will really enhance your experience.  Mobile phone cameras can often return very acceptable pictures of winter sights.

1. Keep a journal.

First, treat yourself to an inexpensive hard cover A6 notebook, preferably with pen or pencil attached, and keep it close to the window where you view your garden visitors.  Enter up all your observations, weather notes, sketches and counts., dating it as you go.

2. Set up a feeding station.

It doesn’t have to be elaborate or laden with fine foods.  Start simple: maybe one peanut feeder (mesh construction) and some suet balls, either home made with added seed or bought commercially.  Remember if they have plastic nets, remove them as they can tangle in small birds feet.  Fat balls need a fat ball feeder or holder. Avoid wheat and barley mixes, the seeds are too large for small birds.

3. Start counting the birds

With practice you can get a good impression or estimate of the numbers of different species, relative to one another and record patterns. If you can, make daily entries and select the highest count or estimate for the week.  always record the red letter days when maybe the woodpecker visited.  Your records are valuable and can be entered into the National Biodiversity Data Centre portal where thousands of Citizen Science observations are kept and displayed. 

4. Sign up for the Garden Bird Survey

The 13 week survey runs from the first week of December until the end of February and is organised by BirdWatch Ireland every winter. It’s the biggest and longest running bird survey in Ireland.

5. Starling murmurations

The standout sighting of the winter season is undoubtedly the evening flight and aerial ballet of huge flocks of Starlings, as they gather in a pre-roost spectacle.  Look for gatherings of starlings before dusk, often on communication masts and aerials around towns and villages.  The really big gatherings are often near lakes where the night time temperatures are a little higher.

6. Start studying bird behaviour.

Which birds feed on the ground, which birds high up in cover? Which hang upside down and which run or hop?  Which birds form flocks and which remain solitary? Berry eaters, fat feeders, insect eaters, seed eaters, they’re all out there in the garden.. It’s great fun for all the family to look and record the raw data in your new notebook.

7. Witness bird song.

Easy with practice, especially in winter when most birds drop territories and don’t need to sing.  However, Robins are an honourable exception , so it’s a great chance to add their sweet notes to your memory bank.  Expect to hear call or contact notes which are short communication tools for flocks and individual birds.  Listen out for singing Dunnocks and Wrens, otherwise subtle creatures.

8. Try Night Spotting.

Wrap up well and take to the patio or garden, hot drink in hand. Cold, calm, moonlit nights with easterly conditions sometimes have skies laden with migrating thrushes, en-route from mainland northern Europe to Ireland for the winter.  Listen for the thin ‘tseep’ contact calls of Redwings overhead and count the number of calls… it can run to hundreds over a few hours or sample five minutes at a time, two to four hours after sunset. Night spotting can be done effectively in urban as well as rural settings.

9. Get gardening: time to adopt a pollinator plan.

Increase the number of berry bearing bushes in the garden and set aside areas for wildlife.  Plant bee friendly bulbs now for spring returns. Winter flowering heathers are ideal for early or late feeding insects.  Ivy provides nectar rich flowers in November and black berries in February, when little else is available for garden birds. Check out the fact sheets on our website for plant lists. There are also lots of resources on 

10. Put up a nest box or two

If you have a sheltered wall or fence, a tree or two, you can provide a spring home for hole nesting birds such as members of the tit family or an open fronted box for robins and wagtails.  Birds will also roost in boxes and baskets over winter, especially on cold, freezing nights when the shelter of the box is invaluable.  With the leaves down, winter is a great time to search for last seasons nests which  can become obvious in the bare cleft of fruit trees or hedgerows.

A Wrens domed nest. Lookout for Wrens moving into nest boxes at dusk (c. S Ogilvy).