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  • Tomas

Garden birds: Feed or Not to feed?

Updated: May 24, 2023

After publishing my last blog about feeding birds 7 Tips for feeding your garden birds few people raised questions and concerns about feeding the wild birds. I have separated the concerns into following topics:

There is plenty of natural food

Suggestion that there is plenty of natural food is not accurate.

First of all there has been massive decline in forests, hedgerows and wild biodiverse rich areas around Ireland and UK that has negative impact on the bird populations. Intensification and process improvements of modern agriculture also affect negatively the birds, although many farmers are incentivized and do sow bird seed crop again.

Secondly the hedgerows and trees are constantly under chainsaw and trimmers attack at this time of year due to restriction from 1st March to 31st August each year during nesting season. Obviously there are valid reasons for hedge-cutting near roads for safety and visibility reasons, but many are cut down indiscriminately. Cutting hedgerows during autumn and winter means there is less natural food for birds when it`s most needed. I recently witnessed this in my town where several km of hedgerows was hacked down to stumps. There were brambles full of blackberries and elderberries of which half was facing away from road and into nature walks but not obstructing them in any way.

Feeding creates dependency

This is one that probably concerns most people. But birds that visit feeders are gatherers, they are great at finding food source and circulate through the surrounding area, on the hunt for natural foods in addition to supplementary offerings. They quickly adapt to changes in the supply and there is no evidence that garden feeders create dependency (other than during extreme weather conditions). Many ornithologists and conservation organizations recommend feeding birds through the year with appropriate feeds and studies suggest that supplementary food only consist of only 20% of food gathered.

Diseases and poor nutrition

This is very valid concern but following best practices easily avoided. Poor nutrition can result from cheap mixes filled with wheat and other cheap fillers. As with human health the varied quality diet is the key to health. Cheap peanuts can contain highly carcinogenic mold aflatoxin. Only buy good quality mix from trusted sources and peanuts that are aflatoxin tested such as Gardens for Wildlife online shop.

As bird feeders have higher concentration of birds, diseases are easier to transmit. Therefore the feeders should be regularly cleaned and disinfected every 2-3 weeks.

When to feed

As mentioned previously its perfectly fine to feed all year around but if anything the most important period for supplementing food is between November and March. High energy and protein rich foods are good through the year, high fat foods as fat balls and suet cakes should be avoided during warm months as they can go soft and rancid.

Happy gardening

Related read:

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