As we move into
winter, of all the things we can do to help the wildlife in
our gardens, feeding the birds is probably the most important
and rewarding, especially through the winter months. With
over 1 million acres of garden in this country there is plenty
of opportunity for us as gardeners to make a huge difference to the
survival of native birds by providing them with food.
Birds can be fed in a
variety of different ways using the enormous range of products
now on the market. Times have changed dramatically since
the days when peanuts were all that were available, and it is
now possible to target specific bird species by offering their
preferred food. As well as helping the survival of
garden birds, encouraging them to your garden has a
therapeutic effect for many people. Close proximity with
wildlife has been shown to reduce stress levels in some people
and many people of all ages find watching the birds in their
gardens relaxing and rewarding. Taken to the next level,
we can now join schemes whereby garden owners monitor the bird
species visiting their gardens, and scientific organisations
such as the British Trust for Ornithology collect and collate
these observations and use them in research to look at trends
in bird population numbers. All in all, garden bird
watching can be rewarding for us in many different ways, as
well as being very beneficial to our native birds.
So does feeding our
garden birds really make a difference to their survival? The
answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’. The decline of many
once common species such as house sparrow and starling has
been widely researched, and there is compelling evidence that
lack of natural food in our countryside for these birds has
played an significant part in their loss. This is where
wildlife gardeners can have a very positive input.
Supplementing natural food in our gardens with seeds, nuts, dried insects and
fruits will provide nutrition for a wide variety of species,
especially over the winter months when these foods are in
short supply in the wild. At other times, for instance
through the breeding period, supplementary feeding in gardens
helps adult birds to keep themselves well-fed and healthy,
allowing them to spend more time searching for the high protein
insects that their nestlings require. This can increase
fledgling survival. Later when the young birds emerge from
the nest and are able to feed themselves, they are often
brought to feeders by their parents who recognise that peanuts
and sunflower seeds are high energy foods, just right for
helping their youngsters to put on weight quickly. So feeding
the right foods all through the year can have a dramatic
effect on the survival of birds in your area.
Many mail order companies provide a range of seed mixes as
well as the traditional peanuts that many of us fed to our
garden birds in the past. Peanuts are still a valuable high
energy food source for a range of birds, especially the tits,
woodpeckers, nuthatches and some finches, but many other
products have come into the bird-feeding market place. The
most useful is the black sunflower seed, with or without its
seed coat or husk. This is a food source valued by a huge
range of bird species including all the tits, greenfinch,
chaffinch, goldfinch and siskin, house sparrow and robin.
Peanuts and sunflower seeds (known as sunflower hearts without
the husk) make up the bulk of many seed mixes now available.
These are often known as ‘high energy’ mixtures and have a
high calorific value making them very suitable as winter food
for lots of different birds. If seeds of other types are
added, for instance millet or corn, collared doves, house
sparrows and dunnocks will also be attracted. If raisins or
sultanas are a component of a mix then blackbirds and thrushes
will find the food especially palatable. Large quantities of
grain or corn will attract collared doves, wood pigeons and
even pheasants although some people prefer to avoid these
mixes to deter greedy wood pigeons.
Peanuts can be bought as whole nuts or as peanut granules.
The latter are usually found in seed mixtures and are the most
nutritious part of the peanut. Peanuts should always be fed
in a wire mesh feeder, to ensure that whole nuts cannot be
taken. Although there is very little risk of birds choking on
a large peanut, this is still a worthwhile precaution.
Many birds, especially robins, are partial to live foods such
as meal worms or wax worms which are available from bird food
companies. In fact some birds appreciate these insect larvae
so much that it is even possible, with patience, to encourage
robins to take them from the hand. They should be fed in
small containers to prevent them from crawling away!
Earthworms can also be bought for this purpose - blackbirds
and thrushes are particularly fond of these.
In recent years it has been possible to purchase nyjer seed
which is a huge favourite with goldfinches. Often these most
colourful of our finches will come to the garden if teasel,
lavender or thistle seeds are available, but they are more
difficult to coax to the bird feeding area. Nyjer is a tiny
black seed which goldfinches find irresistible. It may take a
few weeks for the first birds to find it, but once they have
the 'word' will spread and others soon arrive. It is not
unusual to have charms of twenty or thirty goldfinches
around a special nyjer feeder. Greenfinches, siskins and
redpolls are also fond of this seed. Goldfinches are also
adapting to sunflower hearts which in some gardens they may
energy fat foods are available in the form of vegetable or
animal fat with seeds incorporated. Some also include dried
berries and insects. These are generally fed to your garden
birds in a special hanging wire container in the form of a
block, as if they are
placed on a bird table they may disintegrate easily or be
quickly devoured by starlings.
Scraps and fruit
Many of us still give leftover scraps, fruit, bread or cake
crumbs to our garden birds. These can be very nutritious and
a valuable food source for many species, particularly house
sparrows, starlings, chaffinches and blackbirds. Apples are a
firm favourite with blackbirds, thrushes, redwings and
fieldfares. Wrens and robins love crumbs of cheese. Many
food scraps may be fed to garden birds, but never include meat
products as these may attract less welcome creatures such as
to feed the birds
There is now a huge
variety of foodstuffs available for garden birds, but we need
to know the safest way of feeding them. The traditional bird
table is still a favourite with many people but is becoming
less popular. Smaller birds such as blue tits or coal tits
may find it difficult to compete with larger more aggressive
species on tables, especially starlings. If this is the case in your
garden, hanging feeders are an excellent alternative. These
can also be easily moved from one location to another in the
garden helping to prevent the build up of harmful diseases.
Some seeds, especially nyjer where the individual seeds are
very small, should be fed from a specially designed feeder.
Peanuts should always be in a hanging mesh container to
prevent whole nuts from being taken.
Some common garden
visitors such as chaffinches, house sparrows, dunnocks and
collared doves, are happiest feeding on the ground. This can
put them at risk from predation by local cats, so a low table,
with a fine mesh top to allow drainage, is a useful addition.
If cats are not a problem in your area, seeds scattered onto
the lawn will bring a range of birds to the garden.
What can you
expect? If you go to the trouble of feeding the
birds in your garden, what species can you expect to see? To
a large extent that depends on where in the country you live.
People who live in the Chilterns can now expect to see red
kites in their gardens if appropriate food is put out for
them. Siskins are more common in the north and west, and in some
gardens in the London area, parakeets are now common
visitors. Most of us can expect to see a minimum of ten
different bird species around our feeders at different times
of year, and some of us will see a great many more. If
natural food in the form of berries and seeds is also
available, twenty or thirty different bird species is a
possibility. Blue tits, blackbirds, starlings and house
sparrows may be your commonest garden visitors, but even these
species will give you hours of hours of enjoyment and you will
greatly assisting their survival by providing food for them.
for more information and Jenny's recommendations