Bird Feeding tips

When to feed

From my own experience I would suggests that October is the one month of the year when nature provides sufficient food and gardens become quiet. The need for supplementary feeding gains importance from November through the winter period to early April when birds disperse to their breeding grounds. From early May feeding activity intensifies, increasing steadily until the end of September. Activity in our gardens will vary with the availability of natural food supplies, the year and the weather.

This has been a contentious question for a long time, but the answer is now generally accepted as all year round. Mortality rates for Greenfinch peak in April/May when traditionally people stop feeding. Provision of supplementary food will allow adult birds to give all the natural foods they can catch to their young.

Different species visit at different times of the year. This coincides either with the natural availability of food or adverse weather i.e. cold and snow or hot and dry. If the appropriate foods are available then the birds will make use of them when they need to.

What to feed

The best foods for wild birds are those made available by nature. The best that we can provide can only be regarded as substitute or alternative foods as a supplement to nature.

Years ago the only foods available were either waste or poor quality by-products. Some were even toxic and the vast majority were totally inappropriate for the species people were trying to help. Today toxic foods are more rare, but the majority are still unformulated, ineffective and reliant on cheap poor quality ingredients.

Much research has now been carried out into identifying the types of foods best suited to individual species or groups of species. Consideration has been given to their nutritional requirements at differing times of the year and even to the demands placed at migration and breeding times to ensure that they have the best foods to meet their needs.

Of great significance was the introduction of the oil rich Black Sunflower seed. This food is fast replacing the peanut as the most popular garden bird food. Favoured by a wider range of species, it is ideal and totally safe for all year round feeding. This year also saw the introduction for the first time of Sunflower Hearts. Not only does this food remove the problem of unsightly husks, but increases the number of species attracted.

Seed mixes have been available for many years, but again, many were totally unsuitable for most species. A selection of formulated seeds mixtures is now available from suppliers such as  'CJ WildBird Foods'   Such food is suitable for hanging feeders, table and ground feeders available from suppliers such as Bird Feeding Station, for different times of the year and to satisfy the needs of different species.

Birds have differing needs at different times of the year. When raising chicks they need protein rich live food, hence the introduction of Mealworms and Waxworms. When laying eggs they need calcium, therefore provide Oystershell Grit. During very cold weather some need fats so Food Bars were introduced.   The range of food available is continuing to expand to more and more species such as Goldfinches.  To attract them into coming into gardens to feed Nyjer seed was made available. These are some examples of the foods we can now provide to help birds.  Traditionally, fat based products have been messy and fairly ineffective as a bird food. Food Bars have overcome these problems. In addition to being attractive to traditional species, they have helped Blackcaps, Treecreepers, Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits, to name but a few.

Live Foods add yet another dimension to garden bird feeding. Mealworms and Waxworms have long been known to be a favourite of the Robin, but little did we expect the great diversity of species, which would also be attracted to them. Live foods have proved to be real lifesavers during periods of bad weather. E.g. Wrens, Wagtails and Woodpeckers in cold weather. The Tit family during the breeding season and the Sparrows during its breeding and moulting period.

How to feed

Most people begin bird feeding by throwing out some breadcrumbs or a few apples when the weather is harsh. This is usually followed by the acquisition of a peanut filled red net or a bird table and a packet of seed.

If you consider how birds feed, two distinct feeding types become apparent. Clinging feeders (e.g. the Tit family), and the ground feeders such as Robins, Thrushes and Doves. It follows therefore that we need hanging feeders for the clingers and ground feeders for the rest. Ground feeding can however present 'opportunities' for local cats! The Bird table offers the best compromise being suitable for both clingers and most ground feeders. An ideal scenario would be to include all three systems of feeding in our gardens.

I would recommend hanging feeders filled with Sunflower Seed, Peanuts or Sunflower Hearts to attract Tits, Greenfinch and Woodpecker, Ground feeders filled with mixed seeds for Robins, Thrushes, Dunnock, and Doves, Nyjer feeders filled with Nyjer seed to attract Goldfinch and bird tables with mixed seeds to provide safe and easily observed, but 'elevated' ground feeding.

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