Feeding the birds that visit your garden helps them to survive difficult times, and watching them is endlessly fascinating. In this article, I have some tips to ensure you give them the correct food while being careful with hygiene to give them the best possible help.
Putting food out for birds can be done year-round and will bring birds into your garden for your enjoyment. Food can be store bought food especially for birds, but you may find that you already have the ingredients in your store cupboard to help them immediately. A fresh source of water should be changed daily.
If you want to know more about what to feed birds to attract them to your garden, please read on.
Do you know how to attract nesting birds to your garden? Find out here
Which Birds Can You See In Your Garden?
The species you see in your garden will depend on where you live. However, you can easily get up to 50 species to visit your garden in most areas. The most likely visitors in British gardens, even in suburban gardens, are starlings, house sparrows, blackbirds, blue and great tits, robins, greenfinches, and collared doves.
In many gardens, dunnocks, song thrushes, and chaffinches hop around on the ground below the bird table. In more wooded areas, you may be lucky enough to see great spotted woodpeckers, nuthatches and coal, marsh, and long-tailed tits.
Look out for blackcaps, too — they are becoming common visitors to some bird tables in winter. All thrush species, including fieldfare, redwing, mistle and song thrushes, and blackbirds visit gardens for fruit and berries.
Feral ring-necked parakeets visit bird tables in southeast England and are spreading further west and north. Magpies and black-headed gulls often pirate food from small birds, and you may also see sparrowhawks searching for small birds.
I was watching the sparrows around my bird table the other day, and they went silent all of a sudden and disappeared into the brush. It was strange to see their behavior change so quickly, but 30 seconds later, a sparrowhawk descended. It was quite a sight.
In the USA and Canada, you are likely to see American goldfinches, mourning doves, blue jays, American robins, Northern cardinals, hummingbirds, tufted titmouse, and downy woodpeckers.
No matter where you are in the world, putting food and water out for birds is a great way to encourage them to visit your garden.
Find out how to keep birds safe in your garden here
What To Feed Birds
In autumn and winter, most foods are fine for birds, so put out water and good quality food and scraps regularly, at least once daily if possible. In spring and summer, however, only selected foods should be given to ensure the well-being of the young.
Some foods to try are black sunflower seeds, oatmeal, sultanas, raisins, currants, mealworms, waxworms, mixes for insectivorous birds, good seed mixtures without loose peanuts, and summer seed mixture. Birds also like soft apples and pears cut in half and bananas and grapes.
Avoid using peanuts, fats, and bread since they can be harmful if the parents give these to young nestlings. For this reason, please don’t allow uneaten foods to accumulate on the bird table.
If you supply peanuts, make sure to use a feeder that will not permit the removal of large chunks. While you may want to make fat balls, this isn’t a good idea during summer. Homemade fat balls will go soft in summer and will turn rancid quickly.
Why Feed Wild Birds?
Two-thirds of British households feed wild birds, and because of this, birds quickly start to rely upon you as a vital food source. The value of winter feeding has been known for a long time, but in summer, only selected foods should be given, and hygiene around the feeding table is even more important, or feeding birds may do more harm than good. However, if you are happy to feed birds year-round, they will definitely appreciate it.
Best Ways To Feed Birds
Bird Table – This needs a raised rim to retain the food and a gap at the corners so that you can clear the uneaten food easily. A few holes for drainage will help.
Nut Feeder – Make sure you use metal feeders as nylon can be unsafe for the birds. The holes should be large enough to stop birds damaging their beaks, but small enough that whole nuts cannot be removed.
Seed Container – Perching birds will love seed containers that have perches attached. These feeders are especially good for sunflower mixes, although a flat surface is better for cereal based mixes.
Make Your Own – Some ideas for making your own bird feeders are coconuts hung upside down and filled with food. Homemade fat balls are cheap to make but make sure that these are used during the colder months as they will melt in the heat.
Birdseed mixture – I try to avoid mixes containing split peas, beans, dried rice, lentils, or dog biscuits as they need to be soaked before eating. Mixes containing peanuts should only be used in winter as these can be dangerous to young birds.
Black sunflower seeds – In many areas these are now more popular than peanuts. Not only are they inexpensive, but they are rich in energy-giving oils, essential for birds.
Peanuts – Never use salted peanuts, and always buy peanuts for birds. Some contain a natural substance called aflatoxin, which can kill birds.
Coconut – Always buy fresh coconut and do not use dessicated coconut. Simply rinse out any remaining sweet coconut water and hang up the empty shell.
Mealworms and waxworms – These are delicious but can be expensive, and are relished by robins and other insect-eating birds.
Bread – Try to use crumbled bread, and moisten if very dry
Pastry – Putting out spare cooked or raw pastry
Rice – Birds will eat cooked rice, but try not to put any salt in it.
Oats – Birds will love dry porridge oats or coarse oatmeal
Fat – Birds will eat all fat but don’t use polyunsaturated. Bacon rind can be chopped up or suspended on a string. You can make inexpensive bird cakes by pouring one-third melted suet or lard onto two-thirds seeds, nuts, dried fruit, and oatmeal.
Potatoes – Cooked any way but not chips.
Fruit – Birds love fresh or dried fruit. Fruit can be used even if it is partially rotten.
Don’t Forget To Supply Water
Birds need water all year round, especially in warm or very cold weather, so it is a good idea to have a bird bath. The inside should be rough, so plastic ones are not suitable. You can make a simple bird bath yourself from a zinc or rubber dustbin lid sunk into the ground.
By placing a few stones in the base, you can make a good perch for birds to reach the water. Make sure to keep it clean and change the water regularly, daily in warm weather. Because the water will freeze in very cold weather, it is a good idea to line the bath with polythene so that you can remove and replace it if it freezes.
Birds need a fresh supply of water. Find out how to attract birds to your garden here