Many birds leave our region in winter to spend the winter in the south. However, some species remain loyal to local gardens and cities through the winter. The harsh winter conditions are not the best conditions for winter birds, but they have learned to adapt. How you can make their winter time even more pleasant, you can learn here.
Characteristics Of Winter Birds
Not only storks, but also nightingales, swifts and chiffchaffs, which provide a beautiful sound in the garden in summer, migrate south in winter. But not all species make the long journey to warmer regions. Some remain in Germany through the winter and are exposed to sub-zero temperatures and a lack of food.
Birds need to keep their body temperature at a constant level between 38-42 degrees Celsius. They can fluff up their feathers for this reason. The protruding feathers provide more warmth. Due to a special blood circulation the bare legs are cooled down to 0 Gard Celsius. Thus, hardly any heat can be lost through the legs.
Food is particularly important for the birds during this time, as it provides an adequate supply of heat as an energy source. Seeds, nuts and grains are now incorporated by many species into their daily diet. They provide a diet rich in energy and fat.
Not all species can change their diet easily and depend on insects as a food source even in winter. Therefore, they overwinter in warmer regions because the number of insects is not sufficient in regions that are too cold. Not all birds migrate all the way to Africa. Some stay in southern parts of Europe and are short-distance migrants. When the birds go to their winter quarters depends on the length of the day. The hormones of the birds change with the decrease of daylight and give the signal to travel south.
Winter Birds In Germany
The most common winter birds in Germany are the sparrow, the blue tit and the blackbird. To make it easier for you to identify them in your garden, we will briefly introduce you to the most common winter birds.
Blackbird: The black colored blackbird males with their yellow-orange bill are easy to recognize. Females have brownish feathers and a pale breast.
Blue Tit: This compact little bird has a blue upper head with white cheeks. The yellow breast and blue wings are distinct features of the bird. It is often found at feeders in winter. The blue tit is Europe’s only blue and yellow bird.
Robin: The robin is fairly easy to identify by its red breast and round body shape. If you see a robin in the winter, they usually come from the northern regions and migrate back north in the summer.
Jay: The Jay’s size, pinkish-brown coloring of the body and blue-white-black patterned feathers on the sides are unique characteristics. It is particularly comfortable in large gardens or parks. For the winter, the birds like to hide different nuts in the ground, which are not infrequently forgotten.
Sparrowor House Sparrow: The sparrow has a large head and a relatively large beak. The males are a bit more conspicuous than the dull brown females with a black throat and brown stripes on the side of the head and back. They prefer to feed on seeds and grains and are the most abundant of all species at feeders in winter.
Crested Tit: The little titmouse can be clearly identified by its white and black speckled feathered cap. If you have a large conifer in your yard or live near coniferous forests, you will spot them frequently.
A gallery of the most common winter birds can be found here.
The Right Feeding In Winter
Especially cold winters are responsible for the fact that more and more birds come to the domestic gardens and cities. In the cities the temperature in winter is always a bit higher than in the countryside. Here they find shelter, can better protect themselves from the cold and also the search for food is easier.
If you want to help the small feathered friends in winter, the right food is crucial. Sunflower seeds, fat dumplings or peanuts are just a small approximation of the birds’ natural diet.
In nature, various seeds from trees are the most important food source. Beechnuts, birch seeds or seeds from the cones of spruces become essential food for survival. In the course of winter, more and more natural food sources dwindle. Then the set up feeders come into use. Often this can last into February, as there are still plenty of seeds from trees to be found in the months before.
Here’s how you can fill feeders and bird feeders:
- Sunflower seeds.
- Fat block with nuts or mealworms.
- Tit dumplings.
- Chopped nuts.
- Raisins and dried fruits.
- Seeds containing oil (hemp or poppy seeds).
Criticism Of Feeding Wild Birds
Feeding birds can become a real contentious issue. Even experts disagree on whether or not to offer food to birds. Some experts argue that we should leave the foraging to the birds themselves and not intervene, as the populations would regulate themselves due to the lack of food.
Other experts believe that due to the increased use of pesticides in agriculture and the one-sided cultivation, the populations would be very heavily burdened anyway and that feeding in winter can help here.
Here everyone must decide for himself whether the winter birds should be fed or not.
NABU – Hour Of The Winter Birds
Every year in January, animal conservationists from NABU call on people to observe birds in their own gardens, parks or balconies for an hour during the “Hour of Winter Birds”. From January 6 to 9, 2022, the campaign will take place for the twelfth time. For one hour, all birds throughout Germany are to be counted and the species recorded. NABU and its Bavarian partner LPV evaluate the results annually and can compare the populations and species.
The NABU online site offers tips for identification and a counting aid to print out. The results can then be submitted online, by mail or by telephone.
In 2021, more than 200,000 people took part in the campaign. Around 5 million birds were counted in more than 140,000 gardens and parks. The house sparrow is the most common species, with just under 1 million individuals. Great tits, blue tits and blackbirds are also common in domestic gardens.
The online form can be used to report all birds that basically occur in Germany. As these are more than 500 species, a threshold value is set for each species. Once this is reached, a manual check takes place. For typical swarming birds such as sparrows, this value is quite high, for solitary birds such as the robin, it is somewhat lower.
Rare species have a threshold value of zero. This means that every supposed observation is checked. So it can sometimes even happen that species are discovered that actually leave us in winter.
Declines in a population can also be determined by the count. The blue tit was sighted 16% less compared to 2020. NABU and LPV are evaluating the data and researching possible reasons for the decline.
Reasons may include mild winters or disease. If it does not get too cold, the small birds stay in the forests and are only rarely sighted in gardens and parks.