Helping garden birds by giving them food can be as rewarding for you as it is for them. By using bird tables and hanging feeders to provide a range of seed and other tasty morsels, you can bring wild birds right up to your windows!
When do they need extra food?
Birds will benefit from being fed during some of the hardest times of the year – not just in the winter months.
Feeding in spring helps provide good food for adults while they're working hard to find insects and grubs for their growing young. During summer, when the ground begins to get hard and ground-dwelling prey often goes deeper underground, garden feeding stations can provide a welcome respite. The extra food will help the birds prepare for their autumn moult - when they renew their feathers - and the oncoming winter. The winter, of course, brings its own set of hardships from freezing conditions to floods and strong winds.
So whatever the season, you can be sure that birds will be grateful for a little extra help!
What should you feed them?
Be careful! Grapes, sultanas, raisins and some artificial sweeteners are toxic to dogs.
Feed the birds a range of seeds, unsalted peanuts, and table scraps such as cooked pasta or rice, boiled potatoes, cheese, uncooked and unsalted bacon rind, raisins and sultanas. Net-free fat or suet balls attract a wider range of bird species and provide a great boost of calories. Fruit like apples, pears and soft fruits are always popular and are a great autumn boost.
Good quality peanuts are a great source of protein, so long as they're free of aflatoxin – a toxin that is particularly harmful and is often found in peanuts stored and transported in poor conditions. As a rule, peanuts should only be fed if they're fresh and sold for human consumption or by a reputable feed shop. Make sure peanuts are provided in good quality mesh feeders so that chicks are not fed whole nuts - otherwise they might choke.
Insects, such as mealworms or waxworms are also available to buy - they are very welcome and especially attractive to birds such as the robin and song thrush.
Seeds and grains can include:
- sunflower seeds - striped or black
Fresh water is essential
- Keep water bowls full of clean water and thoroughly clean them every time they are filled.
- Water bowls, like feeding stations, should be placed far away from bushes and other areas where predators might hide.
- Simple tasks such as rotating feeding areas and regular cleaning will maintain the health of birds and help stop transmission of lethal diseases.
Many garden birds die each year through the transmission of diseases, some of which are contracted through dirty feeders and water bowls. It’s really important to make sure all feeders are cleaned weekly - water containers daily - and thoroughly rinsed with clean water then dried before refilling.
Rotate feeding areas around the garden to prevent the build up of pathogens like bacteria or fungi on the ground.
As well as the information above, we've put together a fun visual guide about feeding garden birds that you can print out and keep.
Garden Bird Health Initiative (GBHi)
The Garden Bird Health Initiative was set up in 2003 to develop and publish guidelines on how to best feed garden birds in order to maximise the benefits for their welfare and conservation. They're also undertaking a major garden bird health surveillance and research project. Should you find dead or diseased birds in your garden, please report them to the GBHi by using the contact details on their website.
The GBHi has produced fact sheets on diseases affecting British birds such as Trichomonosis, Avian pox, Salmonella and Avian flu, which are all available on their website.