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Holly and ivy - a winter haven for birds

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. Discover how 'holly and ivy' are so much more than a Christmas carol.

Holly berries

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


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

Ivy berries are darkly coloured and rich in fat, and they grow in abundance along our charity's 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 ability to grow and spread rapidly. However, it has also been hailed as one of the best plants for wildlife. Its waxy leaves provide amazing shelter 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 you can help at home

By following our top tips, you can keep your garden wildlife-friendly for any birds in need.

  1. Keep it natural. Don't remove dead leaves and branches unless absolutely necessary, as this destroys the habitats that wildlife depends on.
  2. Build a brush pile. Use a mix of small and large branches with plenty of small spaces for roosting and insulation. Create the pile in an area sheltered from strong winds to make it most attractive to birds.
  3. Fill up bird feeders with healthy treats. Use rich foods, such as seeds and nuts, which will help give birds a boost. Avoid salty snacks, as birds cannot digest these.
  4. Provide clean water. Birds still need to drink during winter and many die from a lack of available water. Make sure your bird bath doesn't freeze over.
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Last Edited: 21 November 2022

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