We all enjoy seeing songbird visitors, old and new, taking advantage of the bird feeders and spending time in our gardens. Feeding the birds is a hugely popular national pastime in the UK. Nearly half of us feed the birds in our gardens, providing an amazing 50,000 tonnes of supplementary food every year! This is a fantastic way to help songbird populations, especially over the colder winter weather, when foraging for food is more difficult. It’s also been shown that supplementary feeding over the winter can boost songbird breeding success in the spring.
With the warmer weather now appearing, spring is definitely in the air. Over the breeding season, birds are rushing around making nests and finding natural foods (mainly insects) to feed their young. These adults will use the food you give them to fuel themselves during this hectic time. When their young have fledged, the adults will teach their offspring where to source food, and this will include your garden feeders.
But what should we feed them?
There are lots of different types of seeds on the market and the ones you choose will determine which birds you will attract. Buying a small bird mixture or high protein mixture will attract the most variety into the garden to begin with. Seed feeders can be hung from bird tables and can be a safer way for small birds to eat; small birds can hang better than larger birds, and there are fewer threats from cats at this type of feeder. Hanging seed feeders attract birds like tits and finches, whereas ground mesh feeders will suit birds like robins, blackbirds and thrushes. Songbirds love sunflower heads when they have gone to seed. Hang the heads up by the storks, and birds will enjoy pecking at the ripe seeds. Birds also appreciate thistle heads and lavender seeds, so don’t dead-head your lavender too soon!
These seeds are oil-rich and high in protein and little birds struggle to resist them! If you serve this it will attract species like goldfinches, siskins, greenfinches and redpolls.
Dried Mealworms / Insects
A great natural source of energy, fat and protein which the birds love. They need to be placed on a flat feeder and during the breeding season it’s best to use mini or mashed mealworms, as whole dried ones can choke fledglings. Loved by many species such as blackbirds, tits, thrushes, wrens, dunnocks and especially robins. Why not also soak them in water as another way to keep the birds hydrated!
All garden birds like peanuts as they are high in energy and fat, but try not to feed them in the summer as they can get stuck in fledgling and juveniles’ throats. Place in a specialist peanut feeder or on a flat feeder, but make sure you remove all packaging, including any plastic mesh bags as these can harm birds and other wildlife.
Suet treats and fat balls
Suet treats are especially good in winter as they are rich in fat and protein. There are many different styles which can be hung on their own or in feeders, and are great all year round. These are easy to make yourself and the birds adore them.
- This little blue tit was photographed enjoying fat balls in Somerset, England on a winter’s morning.
Chop up apples, pears etc. and either hang in wire feeders, on flat feeders or special spike–feeders to hold the fruit while the birds feed off it. Dried fruit is a favourite too, especially with blackbirds and robins. Seeds from melon also go down well!
Bacon rind (chopped up small), over-ripe fruit and even leftovers from meals can supplement garden birds. But NO BREAD – birds need food with high–nutritional benefit, and bread is bulky, fills up their bellies with ‘empty’ food and doesn’t give them nearly as much nutrition as they need in their busy lives.
to download the SongBird Survival Feed the Birds Guide, to find out which birds like what food, and how they like to eat them.
To stop diseases such as salmonella and trichomoniasis spreading, clean your bird table/feeders and bird bath on a regular basis. Remove old or stale food and clean your feeders and table with hot soapy water and a brush. Allow to dry before re-filling.
Where to site feeders and bird baths
Site your feeders and bird bath away from walls and fences where cats could pounce from. If cats do come into your garden then consider using a bird table rather than ground feeders. Feeders with guards on will also help protect songbirds when they are feeding. If possible, site feeders or bird baths near to hedges, trees and other large dense shrubs. This will allow small birds to quickly get away to safety if a predator is hunting them. Growing prickly shrubs and trees will provide nesting sites, as well as safety for birds; they make predators move more slowly around the extra obstacles in your garden when hunting, giving small birds time to get away. SongBird Survival’s latest research
gives some more handy hints for feeding birds during the breeding season to protect them from predation.
Bird species need different sorts of nest sites as they build different types of nests. For example, blackbirds and thrushes build ‘open-cup’ nests in hedges and shrubs. Finches build small dense cocoon nests higher up in trees. Tits prefer a hole in a tree; or, due to many of us tidying away so many rotten trees, will readily take to a nest box as an alternative. Robins and wrens are very adaptable and will often make their nests very close to your home or shed, often inside! Sparrows, house martins and swifts will all take to nest boxes, and in our modern houses there is often no other option for them.
To prevent predation of nest boxes, we highly recommend using a protective nest box plates to deter squirrels, larger birds and other predators. These stainless steel plates protect the entrance hole to the nest box and prevent larger birds and predators from enlarging the entrance hole to gain access.
Pigeons are numerous and don’t need as much special care as smaller birds. If you want to make sure your high-nutrition food is being fed only to songbirds, use hanging feeders and small bird tables that only allow enough room for the littler birds to get in. Songbirds are messy eaters and there will be plenty for the pigeons and other wildlife to clean up from the ground below!
To help stop grey squirrels from stealing your peanuts, chop up fresh salad peppers and mix these with your bird food. Squirrels don’t like any part of the capsicum pepper and even growing the plant can deter them.
They also dislike peppermint, so dab some peppermint oil on the things that squirrels nibble on, and remember to reapply after rain.
Grey squirrels not only steal your bird food, but destroy habitat and will eat eggs, nestlings, fledglings and even adult birds when they can. They will often rob birds’ nests, break into them or knock them down to eat what is inside.
We hope these tips will help you get the most out of feeding the birds in your garden this spring. Remember to let us know who comes to visit this year – we’d love to hear from you and see your photos on our Facebook page!