Mary Poppins might have been talking about the pigeons in London when she said ‘Feed The Birds‘ but it holds true wherever you are, especially in the winter and early spring when there is little food around..
There are three main things to think about when feeding the birds –
Suitable Bird Foods
The type of food depends very much on the type of birds you want to attract and what you have available. There are lots of commercial mixes available, ones that have whole grains, split peas, lentils and rice are best for larger birds such as Pigeons, Doves and Pheasants. Whilst smaller birds may be attracted to some parts of the food, their larger cousins will drive them away. For smaller birds you should be looking at mixes that contain millet, sunflower seeds, Nyjer seeds and peanuts. You should only use whole nuts in winter when there are no chicks around. Fat balls are also good for smaller birds and are loved by almost all of the Tit family. You can also crumble some up and place it in suitable spots for ground feeding birds such as Dunnock and Wrens. Thrushes and Robins like fruit and worms.
You can also use some kitchen scraps and staples. Cut up soft apples or pears, bananas (peeled) and grapes are good but don’t put out more than will be eaten in a day. Grated cheese is good as is fruit cake, mince pies, soaked dried fruit and unsalted nuts. Don’t put out soft fat as that will stick to their feathers and make them vulnerable to cold. Also avoid anything salty. Uncooked porridge oats or pinhead oatmeal is a good staple but don’t use cooked oatmeal as that is too glutinous.
Do bear in mind what is good for your household pets as well, don’t put out vine fruits where dogs can get at them as they can be toxic.
The feeders you use need to suit the type of food you are putting out as well as the environment they are in. A large mesh hanger is no good for small seeds and a flimsy wire won’t hold a fat ball and a bird. A traditional table is popular with lots of birds but if you are aiming to attract a particular species then a more specialised feeder might help. Hanging feeders are great for Tits and some Finches, a ground feeder is preferred by Blackbirds, Robins, Thrushes, Wrens and Dunnocks.
When placing your feeders the location is critical, they should be somewhere they won’t be disturbed or in danger from lurking cats and other predators. Feeders need to be sheltered from the worst of the weather, especially in winter. Try having feeders for different birds in separate parts of the garden, that way the smaller birds will feel safer and you will be able to enjoy seeing them all. Above all birds prefer a feeder with good visibility and somewhere safe to fly to within a couple of metres or so.
It can also be a good idea to move your feeders around the garden every now and then so that predators don’t become familiar with one spot and it helps prevent the build up of any mess.
Cleanliness is critical with your feeders. Clear away any old food regularly and wash down the feeders as they can be the cause of spreading disease – and don’t forget to wash your hands after handling bird food.
A plentiful supply of water is vital, even in winter. Birds can easily become dehydrated and need clean water just like the rest of us. Seed feeders need plentiful supplies as their diet is naturally very dry. You should put out fresh water at least daily and the container washed. If it is really cold and the water is likely to freeze you can put something like a Table Tennis ball in the container to stop it freezing up – you might need something a little larger for a pond!
Once you start to feed the birds and attract a regular crowd to your garden you will never be short of entertainment. In time the birds will get used to you and not fly away as soon as you appear. Their antics and song are a perfect antidote to the trials of everyday life, carefully chosen feeders and baths enhance your garden and make outdoor living even more enjoyable. What’s not to love about that!