Birds struggling in freezing conditions

Garden and migratory birds will suffer if arctic conditions continue according to a leading bird charity.

Following the prolonged icy blast bringing Arctic weather to Britain and Northern Ireland, the RSPB is calling on birdwatchers, walkers, anglers and water sports enthusiasts across the UK to minimise disturbance to groups of ducks, geese, swans and wading birds until conditions improve.

On lakes, rivers, wetlands, and coastal areas the birds will be struggling to survive after enduring several consecutive days of freezing temperatures.

Grey Wagtail. Pic Mike Read (

Grey Wagtail. Pic Mike Read (

The RSPB is also urging people to continue feeding birds visiting their gardens to ensure they survive the harsh weather conditions.

Monitoring stations in around the UK have recorded eight consecutive days of freezing weather .

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s conservation director, said: “During freezing conditions disturbance forces the birds to squander their precious energy reserves by taking flight when they need to spend as much time as possible feeding.

We hope everyone who uses the countryside will heed our advice, allowing the millions of birds which visit the UK’s coasts and wetlands during the winter to stand a better chance of survival.”

Shooting may be suspended

If the severe weather continues for 14 days in succession, the shooting of some species of duck, geese, and wading bird can be suspended for a fortnight to help the birds recover. Such a ban was imposed in Scotland last winter.

The birds affected include ducks – including wigeon and pintail – and wading birds, such as godwits, dunlin and knot. These birds either nest in the Arctic, or in northern or eastern Europe. During the winter the birds visit the UK to escape harsher conditions further north.

The RSPB have also welcomed the British Association for Shooting and Conservation’s call for wildfowlers in Scotland and Northern Ireland to show voluntary restraint in their activities to minimise disturbance.

We believe that birds are facing desperate times, strengthening our call for voluntary restraint on disturbance.
Dr Mark Avery, RSPB Conservation Director

Dr Avery added: “We are continuing to receive calls from the public reporting seeing woodcock coming into their gardens. It is obvious that these birds, which are normally shy woodland birds, are freezing and starving and they’re desperately seeking food and shelter. We believe that birds are facing desperate times, strengthening our call for voluntary restraint on disturbance.”

Garden birds are at risk

As the weather worsens garden birds are fighting an ever-increasing battle to find food and water in order to stay alive.

Birds have become very vulnerable and are more likely to come into our gardens to seek refuge as they struggle to find the natural food they need to stay alive which has become buried by snow or frozen solid.

To encourage the survival of our birds, people should provide food like meal worms, fat-balls, crushed peanuts, dried fruit, seeds and grain to compensate for birds’ natural food which is covered in snow and ice and impossible to get to.

Leftovers like grated cheese, porridge oats, soft fruit, unsalted bacon, cooked rice, pasta and the insides of cooked potatoes are also a good source of energy for garden birds, and water for both drinking and bathing is vital.

Freezing conditions make it hard for wildlife to get enough of the right kind of food supplies
Val Osborne, RSPB Senior Wildlife Adviser

The cold weather is also likely to bring a host of unusual visitors to UK gardens.

Val Osborne, senior wildlife adviser for the RSPB said: “Providing food and fresh water will not only ensure the survival of our garden birds, but may also attract some very hungry, unusual suspects.

Freezing conditions make it hard for wildlife to get enough of the right kind of food supplies, and some will go to great lengths to ensure their bellies are full – including venturing into unknown territories like back gardens!“

Look out for these rarely-seen species in your back garden this winter:

  • Woodcock
  • Little Egret
  • Brambling
  • Snipe
  • Yellow hammer
  • Meadow pipit
  • Water rail
  • Grey wagtail
  • Kingfisher
  • Waxwing
  • Reed bunting
  • Redwing

To find out what these and other birds look like, visit the RSPB website –

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