At this time of year, when natural food is hard to come by, birds rely on our gardens as a source of nourishment. It wasn’t until recently I discovered there is a lot more to just sprinkling your leftover toast crusts (Grandad was right, my hair never did go curly!) when it comes to feeding the birds. Today I’m going to share some of my recent learnings in the hope that, no matter how small your garden, you’ll be inspired to feed our feathered friends!
Why feed birds in the first place?
Well, first and foremost, it’s a nice thing to do! Have you ever just sat at a window and watched different species of birds visiting your space? It is such a nice feeling and can be quite meditative.
It’s also a natural form of pesticide. If you have plants that attract pests like slugs, snails and aphids, different types of birds can help to control those numbers. This means you’re less likely to need those horrible blue slug pellets that poison slugs in a slow and painful way. This will also stop birds from digesting those dying slugs, taking the poison with them.
Finally, and not to get too Pocahontassy about it, but it reminds us we are all connected to each other and we all need each other in some way. By inviting and allowing birds to graze in our gardens we are showing kindness to some of the smallest species.
What should I feed them?
This all depends on what types of birds you want to attract. On the one hand you shouldn’t really be picky – they are all hungry after all – but in my experience it can be very annoying and off-putting when you have these hulking great pigeons and seagulls bulling their way into your tiny green space!
Particularly in the winter, it’s important that birds are getting energy and warmth (just like us) and for this reason they need fat and protein. Nuts and seeds are a great source, but also fat balls, cheese and leftover pastry are good too. It is recommended that you avoid bread and cereal as these contain very little in way of nutrients and so can fill them up without actually feeding them (just like us!) and it’s generally just pigeons and magpies that end up eating them.
Naturalist, Stephen Moss in the latest Gardener’s World magazine suggests you put out food that is “high energy but low effort,” so things like sunflower hearts are really beneficial because the birds don’t lose energy trying to peck them out of the shells. Peanuts are also a bit too big for most garden birds and they cannot be swallowed whole so your might notice only larger birds (and perhaps very determined little ones) going for those.
How do I feed them?
Different birds have different eating styles. Some, like robins and blackbirds, prefer to touch down on a flat surface while others, like tits, seem to enjoy clinging to a wire feeder.
You might also want to consider your neighbourhood and whether the birds need protection from any felines in the area. I still remember vividly learning about the circle of life about age 6 when my cat, Tabby pulled the tail off a blackbird and my mum had to “put it out of its misery” and I called her a murderer!
I can also remember playing my recorder as a funeral to a young blue tit that my other cat, Harry had killed and left on the ground. Not to mention countless woodpigeons that ended up on our doorstep in very gruesome ways!
To avoid such horrible situations, perhaps consider buying a bird table or hanging a feeder from a tree to keep them safe from predators.
When should I feed the birds?
Quite simply, all year round. Different seasons require different amounts and different types, of which the RSPB has a great amount of information. It’s important that if you do start to feed birds you keep doing it too. If a bird has got used to visiting you and then after a while you stop, they might waste a great deal of energy getting there. That said, if you forget or go on a holiday here and there I’m sure the birds will find something else in your neighbour’s garden!
A few things; water, cleanliness and patience. If you have a table, it’s a great idea to have a small dish of water for drinking and washing in (or buy a pretty bird bath). I’ve learned the hard way it’s imperative you keep the table or feeder clean. A weekly wipe down, will prevent any mould appearing or any contamination from other birds that may have visited.
Finally be patient. It might take a while for birds to establish your garden as its new favourite restaurant. Try not to get offended if they don’t like what you have to offer. If they are super hungry they will eat it. You’ll soon learn what they like and what they don’t like.
I’d love so see pictures of your garden birds if you have any! Do you have any recommendations for bird feed? How many different birds have you managed to spot lately? Sign up to the next RSPB birdwatch later this month to help them map out the country’s birds.