Bird Feeding Advice
What types of feed should I be leaving out for the birds?
This depends on whether you’re looking to encourage specific types of birds into your garden, or simply wanting to see as many different types as possible. Generally, if we want to see as wide a range of birds visiting as possible, then the greater variety of feeds we leave out the better. But certain bird types obviously have preferred food types. For example, softbills such as robins, blackbirds, thrushes and wrens prefer insects, worms and fruit. Finches, with their shorter stubbier beaks, prefer smaller seeds. But if you look at at our range of feeds, in the description we usually give examples of the types of birds which they will be ideal for.
During the breeding season, it’s important that chicks get plenty of protein and also sufficient moisture in their diet. Putting out mealworms is an ideal way of helping to fulfill both of these requirements. Live mealworms are best for this, but not everyone likes keeping these, so a good tip is to buy dried mealworms, then soak them for few minutes in warm water to rehydrate them, before putting them out in your garden.
Please remember not to put out whole peanuts, unless they are in a proper mesh feeder, as birds may take them back to chicks who could then choke on them. Also, don’t feed peanuts in those ready to hang plastic mesh bags, as the bird's feet can become entangled in them.
What type of feeders should I use?
Once you’ve decided what kinds of feeds to put out, you’ll need a suitable method of leaving it out for the birds. Of course the easiest way is to leave it on the ground, thereby avoiding the need to acquire any feeding equipment at all. But this can leave birds vulnerable to predation, as well as attracting unwanted visitors, such as rats, into your garden.
So we would recommend you use a suitable feeder, depending on the type of feed and the type of bird which will use it. To help you with this, each of the feed types in our range have details of which feeder type they are best served in.
Should I put out feed all year round?
Ideally, yes. The winter months can be particularly tough on birds as they need to maintain their fat and energy reserves in particular, to survive the cold nights. So leaving out a continuous supply of good quality, high energy feeds will be of great benefit. However, the rest of the year sees birds going through breeding, nest building, rearing chicks and moulting, all of which require them to be in good physical condition. So, providing them with appropriate feeds will help them to obtain the protein, energy and general nutrition they need, both for themselves and their growing chicks.
If they know they can rely on your garden being a constant source of supplementary food and water, whatever the time of year, it will soon become a regular stop off point for them, as they ‘do the rounds’ when searching for food in the local area. If you stop providing for them outside of winter, they might stop visiting your garden altogether, as it will be wasting their valuable energy reserves.
The importance of drinking and bathing water
Birds need a ready supply of fresh, clean drinking water all year round. They can obtain a certain amount of moisture through eating juicy bugs and insects, but this won’t provide all the hydration they need, especially in winter when these food sources are at a premium. Also, many seed-based feeds are by their nature quite dry and so this increases the need for hydration.
Please remember to change the water regularly, so it is as fresh as possible for the birds to drink.
The importance of feeder hygiene
It’s vital to get in the habit of maintaining a clean and hygienic environment for your birds to feed in. There are some nasty diseases which the birds can pick up, some fatal, from dirty feeders, tables etc. Yes, it can be a bit of a pain to clean them, but if you make it part of your normal routine then it will become second nature. So, every time you top up your feeder, or re-stock your bird table, just make sure you give them a good clean before refilling - i.e. a little and often. Also, don’t forget to empty, clean and refill your bird baths on a regular basis.
Why not keep your cleaning equipment next to your bird feed supplies, to remind you. We stock cleaning tools and disinfectant – see our ‘Bird Food’ section – ‘Accessories and hygiene’.
How can I stop squirrels and larger birds getting at the feeds?
It can be a bit disheartening when you’re trying to give garden birds a helping hand, only to see a grey squirrel or a gang of magpies descend on your garden and hoover up the feed as quickly as you’re leaving it out. But they are only doing what comes naturally of course. They are also great to watch in their own ways and therefore you may not want to deter them anyway. But they do tend to barge the smaller birds out of the way unfortunately.
If you're very lucky and have got red squirrels visiting your garden, then that's a different matter of course. But please be aware there's a few precautions to be aware of, before you decide to encourage the reds to feed in your garden, not least that you don't want to inadvertently encourage greys to come into contact with the reds as a result. 'The Wildlife Trusts' website has a good section on feeding red squirrels, which we would advise you have a read of beforehand, just so you can be fully informed as to what's best for them.
Anyway, back to the grey squirrels and larger birds - you’ve two choices here really – embrace them (not literally of course!) or gently deter them.
Personally we would go for a combination of the two by giving them an easier alternative to raiding your bird feeders. Whilst we probably don't want to be encouraging grey squirrels into the garden, they are simply going to get in whatever you do. So one suggestion is to put up a squirrel feeder – it has a clear front and flip up lid, which they should find easy to spot and gain access to. Position it near to where they are entering the garden from, so it's the first feeder they see. Don't put too much feed in there, as they will tend to bury what they can't eat in your lawn or flower beds. But this may well be enough to distract them from bothering the bird feeders/tables (or certainly not as much as they would otherwise), therefore giving the smaller birds more time on their own feeders.
For the larger birds, it’s really the ground feeders and bird tables which are most vulnerable (hanging feeders are usually too tricky for them use). The best solution would probably be to provide a feeder they can easily use, but also have a caged ground/table feeder for the smaller birds, kept some distance away. That way, at least it should help prevent the larger birds scaring off the smaller ones.
Of course, you may simply prefer to stop them completely from getting at your bird's food. We therefore stock squirrel proof bird feeders, as well as feeder cages which should keep the larger birds out.
How to address the issue of cats
We all love our garden birds, but unfortunately so do cats, just in a slightly different way! It’s very difficult to stop cats doing what comes naturally, but there are a number of things you can do to lessen the chances of them making a successful ambush.
When we put food out for the birds, it encourages them to become regular visitors, which is what we want of course. But local cats may also become aware of this and start to stake out your garden. So, by feeding the birds, we are inadvertently increasing the chance of them being predated by cats, as in the ‘wild’ there’s less chance of this happening. It’s therefore very important that we try to redress this balance by making it as difficult as possible for the cats to be successful, whilst of course respecting the welfare of the cat.
Birds need as much warning as possible, to escape a pouncing cat, so don’t leave feed too close to a bush or where a cat can conceal itself, ready to grab an unsuspecting robin. Keep your hanging feeders away from tree branches or fences, where a cat could easily leap from.
For ground feeding in particular, it’s a good idea to get a protective cage which can be put over the feed or feeder.
If you own a cat but want to attract birds to your garden as well, get a safe collar with a bell. Tiddles might not like wearing it initially but she’ll soon forget it’s there. It will just give the birds a little warning of an approaching predator.
If you don’t have cats and don’t want them in your garden at all, then the first thing is to try and make it more difficult for them to get access into your garden in the first place - look at blocking up gaps under gates, etc. Failing that you could try an ultrasonic cat deterrent. These are only audible to cats and can be quite effective, especially over the long term when the cat learns that your garden is less comfortable to be around.