Updated: Oct 3
Feeding garden birds does not only help birds to get through cold winter months, but not surprisingly help to improve mental well being of person feeding and watching the birds. It re-connect us to nature and provide sense of satisfaction during dark winter days.
However feeding birds is not just about putting food out there. If you want to feed birds safely and attract wide range of bird species follow these 7 tips:
1. Food variety
To attract many different species of birds you need to provide wide range of food. Plant trees, shrubs and flowers in garden that provide natural food. Rowan, Hawthorn, Elderberry, Pyracantha, Viburnum provide winter berries. Offer supplementary food source like peanuts, seed mixes, suet balls and suet pellets that provide high energy and fat during the cold winter months when natural food is scarce. Some birds prefer seeds, other birds prefer berries or fatty foods, some birds are even more specialized like goldfinches that loves nyjer seeds. So aim for diversity of bird feed.
2. Feeder variety
Different birds not only have different food preference, but also different dining habits. For example Robin prefer Bird tables to hanging seed feeders, Goldfinches prefer nyjer seeds that are best fed from specialized feeders with tiny holes, fat balls and peanuts also requires different feeders.
There are many types of feeders on market to serve different food to different bird species. Providing greater food and feeder variety will greatly increase attractiveness of your garden for many birds. Multiple feeders also mean that more birds can eat at the same time as birds will more likely fight over one feeder than many, but one feeder is still better than none.
Also please avoid fat balls in nets! Birds can easily get caught in them and die. Instead get fat ball feeder, there are many on the market and are much safer than plastic nets.
Choose quality over quantity. Many brands use cheap fillers like wheat in seed mixes and low quality ingredients. As wheat is only good for pigeons it`s often thrown out of feeders and attracts rats so ultimately you are paying for high waste. Wheat free mixes as High Energy Wild Bird Food mix (Wheat Free) will cost bit extra but are full of quality natural ingredients that birds love.
Cheap peanuts are often contaminated by carcinogenic mold Aflatoxin so make sure you buy only peanuts that are Alfatoxin tested.
Quality bird feeders also last much longer than cheaper ones so you don't need to replace them often.
This is probably the most overlooked but cleaning the bird feeders is arguably the most important job. By leaving feeders dirty you can actually do more harm than good. Bird feeders have higher concentration of birds and therefore are very likely places to transmit diseases. Avian flue or Trichomoniasis that affect many finches can spread easily if bird feeders are not cleaned regularly.
Cleaning should be done every 2-3 weeks at minimum. You can buy specialized cleaning products but any eco-friendly soap solution will do same job. We mix vinegar with water 50/50 which makes strong but eco-friendly disinfectant. Take feeder apart (if possible), brush out all remaining feed and dirt and spray thoroughly with vinegar solution. Leave for 5-10 minutes and wash out with fresh water, then leave to completely dry out before re-filling with bird food again.
Birds need access to water as well as food, not only for drinking but also for cleaning feathers. Water bath, pond or shallow tray of water will do the job. Don't forget to regularly clean and refill the water bath with fresh water to prevent spreading diseases. During winter the water freeze so don`t forget to check daily and break the ice on ponds and water baths.
Feed little and often just as much as birds will eat in a day or two. Food can go moldy and stale if kept outside for too long.
Once you start feeding birds do not stop especially in winter. It takes lots of energy to fly in cold so don't let the feeders empty for too long.
Some people feed birds through the year. It's best to avoid fat/suet-based products during the spring and summer months, but do put out mealworms, peanuts and sunflower seeds. If you start feeding in autumn you can add all sort of feed including fat and suet balls.
Place bird tables in open visible space and hang feeders from trees high enough from predators as cats. You can move feeders around once a month to prevent build up of seeds and left overs in one place but don't move them too far so birds can still see them.
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