Feeding Wild Birds
Wild birds introduction
Why we should feed the birds
There are many reasons why feeding wild birds is a good idea.
- Wild birds can play a vital role in the garden's ecosystem and you'll find that other wildlife soon follows.
- It is also a great way of teaching children about wildlife and they can view the birds and their captivating antics at close quarters.
- Most important though is that by feeding the birds you are helping them to survive. We know that there has been a countrywide decline in the numbers of many birds, the House Sparrow is a case in point having declined by 95% in recent years.
It's thought that changes in agriculture have had a big impact on wild birds. Hedges have been pulled out to make bigger fields, different crops are being grown, marshy areas are being drained and more fertilisers and pesticides are being used. Our weather has an impact too. Cold winters can kill a lot of birds through starvation and Summer drought not only dries up ponds and puddles but makes the ground so hard that Blackbirds and Thrushes can not dig for worms.
- In Spring the females need extra energy to produce eggs whilst the males are busy defending their territory.
- Feeding the birds during the Summer months helps the adults stay well fed whilst foraging for their youngsters.
- As Autumn gains pace wild birds need to build up their reserves of fat ready to face the cold weather ahead.
- When Winter bites small birds need to eat 30 to 40% of their body weight daily to survive.
There are lots of ways you can add to the wild birds' diet to help them during the changing seasons of the year.
Autumn and Winter
Winter feeding benefits the birds most but food shortages can happen at any time of the year.
- In severe weather when the ground is blanketed by snow and ice you can put food and water twice daily. This is also the time when shy or rare birds will be drawn into your garden.
- Fieldfares are colourful members of the Thrush family and you might spot them in your garden if you have put apples down in the Autumn and Winter.
Spring and Summer
In the Summer birds need high protein foods, especially when they are moulting.
- Avoid putting out whole peanuts or large pieces of bread on your Bird Table when the birds are feeding their nestlings as these can be too big for the young birds and choke them. It's safer to use kibbled peanuts (small or smashed up pieces of peanut) in the summer and whole peanuts in a Bird Feeder.
Drought and deluge
If there is no rainfall and the ground becomes too dry for Blackbirds and Thrushes to break some people put out soft apples and wet cat or dog food to supplement their diet.
- Sultanas, kibbled oatmeal, raisins and currants and mild grated cheese can also be used.
Heavy rain can spell trouble for birds that eat caterpillars as they are washed off the leaves.
- Feeding Meal worms, Wax worms and mixes for insectivorous birds can help the birds over the wet spells. They are quickly snapped up by Robins Chaffinches, Thrushes and Blue Tits and you might be visited by Pied Wagtails as they love them too.
Different Types of Bird Food
Black Sunflower Seeds
Black sunflower seeds have a high energy content and and have a higher oil content than striped sunflower seeds. You can feed black sunflower seeds all year round and they are a particular favourite of Greenfinches.
Sunflower hearts can be hung from Bird Feeders or nearby tree branches and are very popular with Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Great Tits, Greenfinches and Chaffinches. If you are very lucky a little troop of cherry breasted Bullfinches may call in to investigate. Other birds will gather under the sunflower hearts to eat the seeds that fall to the ground such as House Sparrows, Dunnocks and Robins.
There are different grades of mixed seed you can feed to wild birds and most contain sunflower seeds, kibbled peanuts, faked maize, millet and kibbled oats. Some also contain sultanas and raisins. Mixed seed attracts House Sparrows, Starlings, Dunnocks, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Chaffinches, Robins and Collared Doves. If you live near to water you might see a Reed Bunting amongst the flock of birds visiting your feeding station as they like to eat the small Millet seeds.
Niger Seeds are tiny little black seeds that are high in calories and oil content. Goldfinches adore nyger seed and will flock in to eat it. It is also loved by Siskins and the rare Lesser Redpoll has begun to visit gardens that are offering this food. Lesser Redpolls are tiny finches that have a red patch on the top of their heads
Live foods include Meal worms (the larvae of the Flour Beetle), Wax worms (the larvae of the Wax Moth) and Earth worms. You can either buy them live or freeze dried. They are rich in proteins and are a favourite of Robins, Blackbirds, Robins, Blue Tits and Thrushes.
Peanuts are rich in fat and are popular with the Tit family, Greenfinches, House Sparrows, Nuthatches and Siskins. Nuthatches and Coal Tits hoard peanuts like squirrels and will dart in and out to snatch them from the Bird Table. Great Spotted Woodpeckers will swoop in to eat them, even balancing on swaying Bird Feeders to get at the food within. Kibbled peanuts attract Robins, Dunnocks and sometimes even Wrens.
Fat Balls, Bird Cake and Food Bars
Fat balls and other fat-based food cakes are excellent winter food. If they are sold in nylon mesh bags always remove the bag before putting the fat ball out as birds can trap their legs in the mesh. Fat balls can be fed to birds safely in a Suet Feeder, an empty coconut shell or loose on your Bird Table.
Feeding stations / bird tables
Some birds prefer to feed on the ground such as the Blackbird, Robin, Mistle and Song Thrush but they will happily use a Bird Table instead. Fieldfares, Redwings, Collared Doves, Dunnocks, Blackcaps, Bramblings, Nuthatches and Chaffinches, are occasional visitors to the Bird Tables.
- Birds that really prefer to use Feeders are the Goldfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and the shy Long-Tailed Tit although they will come down if they are hungry enough.
- Starlings, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and House Sparrows use both Bird Tables and Feeders but Wrens and Treecreepers rarely use either.
- If you are hoping to attract a Wren into your garden it's best to leave food under bushes as they creep under them hunting for insects.
- You can also fill the holes and cracks of a post or suspended log with fatty food, such as suet, for them and you might find you also encourage a Treecreeper to come and feed.
When choosing a spot to position your Bird Table it's a good idea to place it about a metre away from shrubs or trees. You'll often spot a variety of birds sitting amongst the branches waiting their turn to fly down to the food or hop on the Feeder. More often than not there is a commotion when a bird jumps the queue and they all fly off to the safety and seclusion of the sheltering leaves nearby. You can spot the youngsters learning how to feed as they flutter around the Feeder or nip in quickly when the adults have left a space on the Bird Table.
Some birds also need to bathe to keep their feathers in good condition whilst others enjoy a dust bath. If you have a bird bath in the garden you will entice Starlings, Blackbirds and Sparrows in for a splash about. During the summer the water is often a vital resource for the birds as the only drinking water around and it also helps the birds to keep cool.