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Feeding Garden Birds

According to the RSPB, over 50% of adults in the UK feed birds in their garden and here at TGtB we?re proud to be among that figure. Read on for our collection of tips to help make your garden a winter haven for our feathered friends!

Feeding is hugely important to the survival of garden birds over the cold winter months, so be sure to make a real effort in helping them out. Not only will you be doing a good deed when their natural food sources are in short supply, but the whole family will benefit from having lots of lovely birds visit the garden.

Hanging Feeders - These come in all shapes, sizes, materials and styles. Fill with peanuts, mixed seeds or a specific seed type to attract your favourite bird.

Bird Table - Perfect to scatter a variety of foods that don’t work in a feeder. Being well above ground level, these also help keep birds safe from pesky cats. 

Ground Table - Used to prevent mess in your garden from direct ground feeding, these tables are popular with larger birds unable to get to the other feeders. If targeting smaller ground-feeding birds like chaffinches, it's possible to buy a mesh guard to surround the table to protect them from cats while feeding.

Window Feeder Box - These Perspex boxes use suckers to adhere to your window so that you can get a close up view of any visiting birds.

Bird Bowl / Bath - It’s incredibly important that you supply fresh, clean unfrozen water for birds to drink and bathe. Birds need to bathe regularly to achieve maximum insulation from their feathers in the cold weather. A safe source of drinking water is also vital - imagine how parched you would be if all you ate was insects, nuts and seeds!

Seeds - Seed mixes are readily available in shops and supermarkets. They come in lots of varieties with some suited for use in feeders and others recommended for bird table and ground feeding. Hanging feeders will generally attract house sparrows, dunnocks, finches and tits. Collared doves are also partial to a bit of mixed seed when it’s placed on the ground. Nyjer seeds are hugely popular with greenfinches, but since the seeds are so small they require the purchase of a special feeder. Tits and greenfinches favour sunflower seeds above all others - you can buy bags of sunflower hearts to avoid the mess caused by the discarded sunflower seed shells.

Peanuts - Be sure to buy good quality peanuts that are specifically produced for birds, as some varieties can contain aflatoxin which is very harmful to our feathered friends. When hung in a feeder, peanuts will attract tits, greenfinches, house sparrows, nuthatches and siskins. Chopped nuts are popular with robins and dunnocks and whole peanuts will be swiftly gobbled up by wood pigeons and collared doves when placed on the ground.

Mealworms - These can be bought either dried or live to use on a bird / ground table or in special hanging trays. Robins, bluetits and blackbirds absolutely love them - particularly in the colder weather and when rearing their young in spring.

Fat - You’ll find various forms of this on the market including mesh bag-wrapped balls, filled half coconut shells, pellets containing insects or fruit, and slabs for use in specialist feeders. Loved by tits, robins, starlings and blackbirds, this high-energy foodstuff is perfect to sustain your garden birds in winter, helping them keep warm.

You can easily make your own bird cake by pouring melted suet or lard onto a mix of tasty bird-friendly ingredients such as seeds, nuts, dried fruit, fine porridge oats and cheese. Use a ratio of about one part fat to two parts dry ingredients for the mixture. Stir together in a bowl, then allow to set in a container of your choice (adding string if you wish to hang it) - we recommend silicone cake moulds or empty yogurt pots. Once set, pop the fat cakes out of the mould and place on your bird table or hang from a tree.

Coconut - Filled with good fats, coconut is an excellent food source for birds. Just thoroughly rinse out a fresh coconut and hang in its shell. Never feed birds desiccated coconut - it swells in their stomach which can be incredibly harmful.

Cheese - Mild, non-mouldy cheese is a huge hit with robins and blackbirds. Chop it into tiny little cubes and place on a bird table or ground feeder - it won’t be there for long!

Fruit - Cut apples in half and place on the ground for blackbirds to enjoy. Dried fruit such as sultanas or raisins (soaked first in water for 30mins) can also be a popular treat.

Used cooking fat - This may contain salt (form whatever’s been cooking), can breed bacteria and is very bad for birds feathers.

Margarines - These don’t contain enough saturated fat to be a useful food source and since they don’t harden can be detrimental to birds feathers.

Mouldy Food - Some moulds can cause respiratory infections in birds so don’t put out any blue cheese and make sure food isn’t left lying outside for long periods of time.

Milk - Birds are unable to digest milk. As a result it gives them stomach upsets and can even cause death.

Dog/Cat Food - This will likely attract neighbourhood cats, making your feeding station unsafe.

Keeping your feeding stations clean is essential to the health of your garden birds. Remove any stale food from your bird tables as it can provide a breeding ground for salmonella bacteria, which may cause food poisoning.

Since birds congregate so much around feeders, tables and bird baths, they can easily pass diseases on to each other, so keeping those areas clean and tidy can play a big part in ensuring your birds are healthy. Specialist cleaners and scrapers are available to help make sure your surfaces are safe.

Large quantities of food scattered on the ground may also attract rats and mice, so be mindful of how much you put out each day.

Conservation organisations recommend that we feed our garden birds throughout the whole year and not just in winter. If you start a routine of feeding, it’s really important that you keep it up, since birds begin to rely on your garden as a food source - if feeding stops they waste vital energy resources in visiting for nothing.

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