You can feed wild birds lots of different kinds of food all year round but certain foods are preferred by different species. Here are some tips on what types of foods are suitable.
Peanuts may attract many birds due to their high fat content. Whole or kibbled peanuts are a popular choice. Never use salted, roasted or any type of peanut not intended for birds – they contain a high level of toxins which can be dangerous.
Seeds provide birds with a balanced diet and are available in a wide range of mixtures. You can place seeds in abird feeder, on a bird table or scatter them on the ground. Nyjerseed is a firm favourite for siskins and goldfinches. These small, black seeds have a high oil content and require a special feeder which can be found at your local Pets at Home store. Many garden visitors also enjoy sunflower seeds. Birds will not eat the husks as they prefer the heart so buying pre-husked sunflower hearts can prevent a scattering of husks around the bird table.
These mainly consist of lard and include many extra ingredients such as seeds, peanuts or even insects, creating a tasty treat enjoyed by a wide range of garden birds. Always remember to remove the nylon mesh bag as the soft mesh can trap and injure birds.
You can also feed the birds kitchen scraps, mild cheese, potatoes, pastry and cooked rice. Ripened fruit is welcomed by some garden birds. Bread is another favourite and despite its low nutritional value it’s fine for birds providing it’s kept moist.
You’ll get different birds visiting your garden according to the season. Many people believe that it’s only necessary to feed the birds in winter. However, with depleting natural food sources birds can become dependent on the food we provide and may use up vital energy travelling to your garden. If there’s no food when they arrive, they may not have the strength to go elsewhere so it’s best to feed them all year round.
Most small birds need to drink at least twice a day to replace lost water. They also need to bathe to keep their feathers in good condition. You should leave a regular supply of fresh water out for them all year round especially in summer when the weather is hot and dry and in winter when natural supplies of water tend to freeze up.
This is a critical time for birds as they’re busy rearing their young and fledglings need a wholesome diet to help them build up enough strength to fly the nest. You can help by filling your feeding stations with mealworms. Mealworms are welcomed by busy adult birds during cold and wet periods as insects and spiders can be difficult to find. You’ll find mealworms at your local Pets at Home store. Put seeds and peanuts out for them – use peanut granules or if using whole peanuts, these must be fed using an appropriate feeder as fledglings can choke on them.
While fledglings are getting ready to fly the nest, they rely on their parents to provide insects so maintain a supply of mealworms in the early summer months. A supply of hi-energy seed is a good idea for adults during a particularly dry summer. Don’t forget that it is as important to supply peanuts and seed regularly throughout the summer as it is in winter.
Towards the end of summer the presence of birds in your garden may diminish significantly and this is simply because there’s an abundance of natural food so they may not rely on your offerings as much.
In autumn natural food sources become scarce. Those birds that like to spend the winter in this country (such as thrushes and finches) will return to your garden in force and rely on you to provide food. Tits and finches will appreciate peanut and seed feeders at this time of year. You can sprinkle an area of your lawn with seed for ground-feeding birds such as dunnocks, collared doves and chaffinches. Your summer garden visitors will be busy preparing themselves for migration to warmer climates. Migrating birds need a clean bird bath as a healthy plumage is essential before a long journey south.
Birds find it difficult to survive in winter. As natural foods are in short supply, you should maintain a regular feeding pattern. Wild birds will be attracted to hanging peanut and seed feeders. A ground seed feeder is useful for keeping seed off frosty ground. Winter is an ideal time to leave suet or fat balls out – they help birds to gain the extra body weight they need to survive in low temperatures.
The RSPB recommends that a bird table is used to feed the birds especially when there’s a natural food shortage. But there are other ways to feed the birds even if you don’t have a garden.
Position your bird table carefully to ensure you get endless visitors all year round. Choose a sheltered and quiet area of the garden making sure that there’s at least a metre between the bird table and any trees or shrubbery. This will help to keep the birds safe from intruders such as cats and squirrels.
Pets at Home stocks a wide variety of feeders.
- Peanut feeders have a wide metal mesh to allow birds to extract pieces of nut without allowing whole nuts to be removed (which can cause choking). It also means that birds won’t damage their beaks on them.
- Seed feeders have a transparent plastic tube intersected by small holes to allow access to the food without the seeds spilling out.
- Nyjer seed feeders are very similar but the access holes are even smaller to accommodate these tiny seeds.
- Window feeders attach straight on to the glass making them a perfect solution for birdwatchers without gardens.
You can feed the birds fat treats in many ways including hanging them, leaving them on a bird table or even spreading them straight into the cracks of trees.
When you start to use a feeder in your garden you’ll have to be patient whilst the birds get used to it. It may take two or three weeks for birds to start using your feeder regularly depending on the time of year. It’s more likely that birds will take to a feeder during cold weather when other sources of food are scarce so late autumn/winter is probably the best time to introduce new feeders.
It’s essential to maintain a high level of hygiene. Feeders and tables must be cleaned regularly with a suitable disinfectant as diseases can spread quickly from a dirty bird table. Don’t leave old food on your bird table and remove any food that remains uneaten after 10 days. In mild, damp weather peanuts should not be left out for more than a week. Clean out their bird bath daily especially in the summer months.
Providing nest boxes is a great way to encourage birds to nest in your garden. Robins, sparrows and tits are particularly responsive to nest boxes and are a joy to watch. Follow these guidelines to create an ideal home for a nesting pair:
- Position a nest box about 2-5 metres up on a tree or wall so that it’s out of the way of curious intruders.
- The box should be positioned so that it faces a north easterly direction as this will keep it sheltered from rain, strong wind and sunlight. Any extremes of weather can hinder birds’ wellbeing.
- Different styles of box attract different birds. Tits will favour a nest box with a small hole at the front. A perch is not necessary as this can attract predatory birds. Robins prefer an open fronted nest box situated lower down amongst vegetation.
- Help nesting birds to make a cosy home by leaving out pet hair – this makes an ideal nest liner.
Remember that many of the breeds mentioned will not visit your garden all year round. Birds will inhabit areas which most suit their feeding habits and will move on if their preferred food source is in abundance elsewhere. By following the advice in this leaflet you can encourage wild birds into your garden and help them survive year after year.
- Bird tablePeanuts
- Seed Mix
- Feeders (make sure it’s the correct one for your choice of feed)
- Bird Bath
- Bird Table Disinfectant Spray
- Book on Wild Birds