Holly & Ivy - A winter haven for birds

Did you know?

Every hour enough plastic to fill two bin bags is washed into our oceans from canals and rivers.

During the long winter months, many of our waterway birds pack up and migrate to warmer climes. But for those who stay behind, winter can be tough.

A bird by the water A bird by the water

To survive the cold temperatures birds need rich sources of food and shelter from the harsh elements. The good news is that holly & ivy provide this perfect combination.


Holly berries are brightly coloured and attract winter birds. Holly provides much needed food and in return birds spread their seeds to help new holly plants grow.

Ivy berries are darkly coloured and rich in fat and they are often seen in abundance along our waterways. Whilst they usually bloom in November, birds tend to avoid them until December. They will eat the shorter lived fruits first, saving the robust ivy berries for the tough winter ahead. It has been suggested that these berries have the same amount of calories as a chocolate bar, gram for gram.


Holly’s harsh spikey leaves can be the perfect shelter for our smaller bird species, protecting them from predators. For this reason, you will often find birds roosting amongst the branches.

Ivy is often given a bad name due to its fast growth and its ability to spread rapidly. However, it has also been hailed as one of the best plants for wildlife. Its waxy leaves provide amazing shelter and thermo-regulation for our winter wanderers. This allows bird species to nest and insects to hibernate safely.

Without these plants our canal-loving winter birds would find it hard to survive the winter, with little food and shelter.

How can you help?

The good news is, you can help. By following our top tips, you can keep your garden wildlife friendly for any birds in need:

1) Keep it natural. Use caution when removing dead leaves and branches as this removes the habitats that wildlife need.

2) Build a brush pile. Use a mix of small and large branches with plenty or small spaces for roosting and insulation. Create the pile in an area sheltered from strong winds to make it most attractive to birds.

3) Healthy bird feeders. Fill them with rich foods such as seeds and nuts which will help give birds a little boost. Avoid salty snacks, as birds cannot digest these.

4) Water supply. Birds still need to drink and many die from lack of available water so keep an eye on freezing water.

Last date edited: 1 November 2018