Feeding the birds is a popular activity, around half of all households in the UK do it. But what food should you be putting out for which birds? When should you do it? And what do you need to think about? Here is our quick guide to feeding the birds.
Which birds might visit your garden?
Some of the most typical garden-loving birds are robins, blackbirds, blue and great tits, and sparrows. You could also see the larger collared doves and wood pigeons visiting regularly. Robins and blackbirds, as well as dunnocks and chaffinches will be most likely seen feeding from the ground, whereas if you put out hanging feeders, then you will attract tits, sparrows and greenfinches. The further south you are, the more likely you are to see jays and parakeets, especially if you have a big garden with tall trees. And if you’re near a wooded area, you could be lucky enough to get woodpeckers. Simon has recently seen blackcaps and nuthatches in his garden visiting his Dewdrop Window Feeder.
Should you feed garden birds all year round?
If you would like to feed the birds visiting your garden, then we would suggest you do it year round but simply increase the amount you offer during the winter months when natural food sources are more scarce and reduce it in the late summer and early autumn when there are a lot of berries and seeds around. Remember that birds will still need feeding in the spring and early summer when they are trying to find food for their chicks. It’s best practice to feel little and often, rather than leaving out large amounts of food which could rot if not taken quickly enough.
How do I keep my feeders clean?
It’s very important to keep your bird feeders clean, as Simon comments: “It’s to prevent garden birds from transmitting disease from one bird to the next as they stick their face in the little hoppers of bird feeders.” Therefore it is best to try and clean your feeders on a weekly or fortnightly basis, using hot water and an eco-friendly washing up liquid. Our Hygiene Brush Kit is specifically designed for this task, although you could use any scrubbing brush or sponge. What’s important is that you ensure the feeder is completely dry before refilling it so that the new feed doesn’t soak up the leftover water.
Do I need to offer water to my garden birds?
The simple answer is yes you shold offer water. Birds, as well as the other wildlife in your garden, will really benefit from you leaving fresh water out for them. However, you will also need to keep the water clean, so it’s best not to place your bird bath underneath a feeder as any seed which drops out could land in the water, causing it to go mouldy more quickly. If you have hedgehogs, then you could place the bath on the floor to allow them to use it. And choosing a water bath, like our Oasis Wildlife Bath with shallow steps on it, allows pollinators like bees and butterflies to also take a drink. If you don’t want to buy an ornamental bath, then a saucer will do the trick.
What foods do garden birds like to eat?
Below, you will find a list of the types of bird seed that different species of birds are attracted to. But if you would like to leave out scraps from your kitchen, then most garden-visiting birds enjoy grated cheese, cooked potatoes and pastry broken up, raisins, sultanas and fruit like apples and pears. You can leave out peanuts but they must be unsalted, and either offer them in a mesh feeder or kibble them into very small pieces to ensure birds, and particularly their chicks during the spring and summer, don’t choke on them.
Which is the best feeder for my garden?
If you are going to buy just one bird feeder for your garden then we would recommend our Seed Feeders, which are available in three sizes. If you have a busy garden with lots of avian visitors then go for the Giant Feeder, or even the Supersize. Or if you have a smaller garden, or just a few passing birds each day, then the Seed Feeder will be perfect. These are plastic-free feeders made from a stainless steel mesh that lasts a long time. They’re easy to clean, with a bottom that pops off to allow access to clean inside the chamber. And the strong hanging points and lockable lid help stop squirrels or larger birds lifting off the top.
The design of the landing perches is particularly beneficial for smaller birds, as Simon says, “I used to be an advocate of some perches that are rounded and give small passerines like goldfinches the opportunity to face inwards. But I noticed that those perches also help larger birds like jackdaws to get a toe hold and they can clear out a feeder in a morning. These simple straight perches ensure jackdaws have a difficulty getting a purchase and being able to raid your feeder”.
Where should I place a feeder in my garden?
It’s best to place your feeder close to a tree or bush where your garden birds can quickly escape to should they see a cat, or anything that spooks them. Don’t place a feeder too close to a nest box or anywhere you suspect birds like to nest in your garden. The nesting birds won’t like it as they will feel a pressure to defend their nest site more because of the larger number of visitors to the area.
What food to leave out to attract certain species of birds
Species: Greenfinch, blue tit, great tit, coal tit, marsh tit, goldfinch, and more
Presentation: Best presented in a seed feeder or a sunflower heart mesh feeder with a small mesh gauge. Can be used on the bird table and ground feeder too.
When: Especially popular in winter and early spring.
Species: Goldfinch, siskin and redpoll.
Presentation: Niger is the closest commercially available food to thistle or alder seed. The species that prefer tiny seeds of this nature are the fine billed finches. Offer in a purpose built niger seed feeder, sometimes called a thistle feeder. All the fine billed finches feed in flocks so the bigger the feeder, the bigger the flock of birds that can access it.
When: Offer year round.
Mealworm (live or dried)
Species: Robin, blackbird and song thrush.
Presentation: A handful of dried mealworms may be added to any mix on the bird table or ground feeder. Try to keep them dry. Live mealworms are best offered in a shallow dish with very small drainage holes. Robins in particular may learn to take live mealworms from the hand.
When: Feed dried mealworms year round. The same for live. Although care must be taken in freezing conditions to offer small volumes regularly. In spring and summer they offer an important supplement to nestlings and fledglings.
Feeder: Wildlife Whisperer Ground Feeder
Suet balls, pellets and blocks
Species: A favourite for long tailed tits, robins, other members of the tit family and great spotted woodpecker.
Presentation: Suet balls should be presented in purpose built tube cages. Blocks usually have purpose built cage feeders to suit their size and shape. Pellets may be added to the bird table and ground feeder, along with seed mix.
When: Offer all year round, though particularly important in winter when birds burn many calories simply keeping warm.
Look for high quality content. Avoid large volumes of wheat or other coarse grain that acts as a low cost filler in some cheap bird foods. This will only feed pigeons and rats once it has been discarded and thrown to the ground by more discerning feeders.
Species: Depending on the quality of the mix, a very broad species selection including tit family, robin, finches, nuthatch etc.
Presentation: A seed feeder or on the bird table.
When: Year round, though volume consumed will increase in late summer and through winter and early spring.
Feeder: Bird Seed Feeder
Ground Feeder Mix
Species: Song thrush, blackbird, robin, wren, dunnock, chaffinch, house sparrow and nuthatch.
Presentation: Present a good quality ground feeder or softbill mix on the bird table or on a ground feeder tray.
When: Year round, though volumes consumed will be higher in late summer, through the winter and early spring.
Feeder: Archway ground feeder
Household Foods – Oats, grated cheese, raisins and apples.
Species: A general mix of softbill birds including blackbird, song thrush, robin and dunnock.
Presentation: All these foods can be presented on the bird table or a ground feeding tray.
When: Year round, though volumes consumed will be higher in late summer, winter and early spring.
Feeder: Bempton Hanging Bird Table
We have a great selection of bird feeders available from the Wildlife Shop.
View our guide to garden birds – which ones can you spot on our Bird Feeder Cam?