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How to help robins survive the cold weather this winter

A Christmas favourite may be in danger without our help as cold weather can prove to be tricky for robins.

With the first snow of the season having already fallen one expert has offered up help and insight as to why robins need our help – and just what we can do.

Robins could struggle with cold weather. Picture: DGS
Robins could struggle with cold weather. Picture: DGS

A robin can use up to 10 per cent of its body weight to keep warm on a single winter night, so unless it can replenish its reserves every day, a cold spell can prove fatal. This is particularly hard for them because daylight foraging is reduced to just eight hours or less, compared to over 16 hours during the summer. British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) research has shown that small birds must spend over 85 per cent of daylight hours just foraging for food to be able to consume enough calories to survive the long night.

Without supplementary bird feeding in gardens, up to half of our robins could die of cold and starvation. Robins are particularly susceptible as they remain faithful to their gardens no matter what the weather.

Sean McMenemy, garden wildlife expert and director of Ark Wildlife, provides insight into how the public can help robins in their gardens this Christmas with some simple tips.

How to make your winter garden robin-friendly

1. Food

The best foods for robins are:

• Fatty foods like suet pellets

• Dried fruit

• Mealworms and calci worms (these are especially beneficial because they are insectivores)

• Special high protein robin blends

• Peanuts (shredded or crushed)

• Meaty kitchen scraps

• Mild cheese

• Cake and biscuit crumbs

Robins prefer to forage and feed off the ground. To encourage them to spend more time with you and make your garden a home, place a small tray full of their favourite food close to a shrub tree or preferred perch. If you’re lucky, robins can quickly become confident in our presence and feeding from the hand is not unknown!

The robin needs to forage for 85 per cent of its day in winter to get enough energy to survive the night. Picture: DGS
The robin needs to forage for 85 per cent of its day in winter to get enough energy to survive the night. Picture: DGS

2. Shelter

During icy spells, birds cluster together to share their warmth. They often use nest boxes as winter shelters, so putting up robin nest boxes can make a huge difference. These will be used as night roosting sites and places for nesting in the spring. Place nest boxes at least 2m from dense vegetation in order to prevent attacks from predators.

3. Water

Place plenty of water sources in the garden. Bird tables make a big difference to the survival rate of robins in urban and suburban areas. Prevent water from freezing by placing a ping pong ball in a bird bath. Alternatively, ice free for bird baths slows the freezing process down to -4°C keeping water liquid for longer.

4. Rewilding

It’s worth ensuring that your garden isn’t too pristine or tidy. Some wild undergrowth will encourage the proliferation of insects and help robins, and other birds, find food this winter.

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