Garden wildlife expert Sean McMenemy of Ark Wildlife highlights how to attract and support robins in the garden this winter.

Like many birds in the UK, the redbreasted robin is under threat this winter, with warnings of a ‘perfect storm’ of a La Nina event set to cause harsh cold spells, alongside disappearing hedgerow habitats and food sources.

A robin can use up to 10% of its body weight to keep warm on a single winter night, so unless it can feed well and replenish its reserves every day, a cold spell can prove fatal. Additionally, food sources are declining with the loss of 50% of our hedgerows since WWII, and continued mismanagement of the critical food sources for native birds.

During a cold winter up to half our garden birds can be lost to cold and hunger. Robins are particularly susceptible as they remain faithful to their gardens no matter what the weather.
Putting out food, water and shelter for birds visiting your garden can make a big difference to survival rates.

There are several simple actions you can take to make your garden welcoming to robins, before the weather begins to turn too cold:

1. Put food out for robins; the best varieties are:
• Mealworms and calcium worms, especially beneficial as they are insectivores
• Fatty foods like suet pellets
• Special high protein robin blends
• Meaty kitchen scraps
• Mild cheese
• Cake and biscuit crumbs
• Dried fruit
• Peanuts (shredded or crushed)

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

3. Birds cluster together during very cold spells to share their warmth. They often use nest boxes as winter shelter, so put up suitable bird nest boxes in winter. These will be used as night roosting sites as well as places for nesting in the spring. Nest boxes should be placed at least 2m from dense vegetation in order to prevent surprise attacks from cats.

4. Place plenty of water sources in the garden. Bird tables make a big difference to the survival of robins in urban and suburban areas. As with any garden wildlife, it’s also worth ensuring that your garden isn’t too pristine or tidy – some wild undergrowth will encourage the proliferation of insects and help robins to find food.

5. Finally, lend your support for our hedgerow habitats - these contain hawthorn berries, rose hips, sloes and many other fruits in the autumn, and are a larder for birds and small mammals preparing for winter, as well as migratory birds that overwinter with us. Join the Great British Hedgerow Survey which health-checks the nation’s hedges. After any hedgerow is surveyed, you will get instant results its health and bespoke advice about the best way to manage it.

Find out more from the People's Trust for Endangered Species