Garden Birds – How to Feed & Attract Them to Your Garden

how to feed wild birds in your garden

A flurry of snow reminded me this morning that we are still in the grip of Winter, and that wild garden birds still need feeding.  We try and feed wild birds all year round in our garden, and consequently we have a wide array of wild birds that visit our garden.  Among the more common species of garden bird, we’ve also had Waxwings, Pheasants and Cuckoos.   Having birds visit your garden is fantastic to see and I’ve found that as my daughter is a bit older and more aware of things, a great quiet activity with the kids to get them interested in nature.

waxwings uk

A family of Waxwings in our garden

There are quite a few do’s and don’ts about feeding garden birds that perhaps not everyone is aware of so I thought I’d put together a little handy Moral Fibres guides to feeding and attracting wild birds:

What to Feed Garden Birds

Seeds

When buying bird seed for garden birds look for a high quality mixed bag of seed.  Mixes that contain sunflower seeds, maize and peanut granules are great, as well as ones containing small and large seeds as this makes it suitable for a wide variety of garden birds.  It is best to avoid mixes containing a high quantity of pulses, such as split peas, lentils, beans, as well as rice, as smaller species of garden birds (who tend to need food the most in winter) are unable to eat these items.  Bird seed can be placed loose on a birdtable or placed in a feeder.

Meal Worms

Appreciated by most garden birds all year round, especially robins and blackbirds, and work well placed on a bird table.  Buy good quality ones from a local pet shop or garden centre, or from the RSPB.  If you are especially committed you can breed your own mealworms but I’m the first to admit that I feel a little squeamish about breeding them, so am happy to continue purchasing them from a shop!

Fat Balls

garden birds

You laughed at that, right?  Admit it!

Yes.  The words ‘fat balls’ always make me giggle too, but in all seriousness, fat balls are a great source of food and energy for garden birds in the winter.  Fat balls tend to compose of lard/suet, nuts, cereals and sunflower seeds, so are densely packed with essential energy and fats for birds.  Great Tits (above) love fat balls (laughing again?!), as do other tits, sparrows, starlings, blackbirds and blackcaps.

You can make your own fat balls, and you can buy fat balls in pet shops and garden centres, and they tend to come in mesh bags.  Never hang the mesh bag in your garden as the mesh can trap birds feet – instead take them out of the bag and put them into a fat ball holder (our one above, taken a couple of years ago in a particularly snowy winter, is a metal one from Homebase), or you can sit them on a bird table.

Fat balls are most appreciated by garden birds in the winter, when fatty food sources are hard to come by.  You can make your own fat balls, however you should not put these out in the summer months, as they can rot in the heat.

Bread

Contrary to popular belief, bread is not the best food to feed to wild birds.  It tends to fill them up with little nutritional benefit, so it is best given to birds as part of a varied assortment of food on your bird table.  Any kind of bread is fine, but brown is preferable, and all bread should be soaked first.

Putting out large chunks of bread during the breeding season (spring and and summer) should be avoided at all costs in case of natural food shortages.   If a natural food shortage occurs birds may feed bread to their hatchlings – potentially causing them to choke and die.

Nuts

peanut bird feeders

Nuts should always be put out in your garden either in a special nut feeder (as above, taken at the amazing Inshriach Garden Centre near Aviemore) that only allows birds to take little nibbles of nuts, or crushed into very small chunks, as again nuts can pose a choking hazard.

Other Household Scraps

Soft fruits, porridge oats (uncooked), grated cheese, cooked pasta and rice, soaked currants, raisins and sultanas, biscuit crumbs and pastry crumbs are all great foods to feed to garden birds.  Fresh coconut is fine, but dessicated coconut should never be given to birds.  Finely chopped unsalted bacon, fats from other unsalted meats are all ok.  Potatoes, mashed, baked or roasted are also welcomed by birds.  Anything salted should be avoided on your bird table, as should any margarines or soft fats, and anything mouldy or off.

You can also use soaked cat and dog food, and tinned pet food, however it is worth bearing in mind that the use of these may attract cats.

Food scraps should always be placed on a bird-table as sprinkling on the ground can attract rats and mice.

Water

It will be much appreciated by all birds if you put out a supply of fresh drinking water by your table in a shallow container.  In winter, this will freeze over quickly, so do try and change it regularly.

Other Advice

Clean your feeders, tables, water pots, and bird baths regularly to prevent the spread of disease in wild bird populations, using a mild disinfectant liberally diluted in water.  Avoid the use of ornamental mirrors in your garden too, as they can confuse birds – they will see your garden in it and fly straight into it, breaking their neck and killing them at worst.  If you are feeding birds very close to your house it is also advisable to place stickers on your windows to deter birds from flying straight at your window, again for the same reasons.

Once you start feeding garden birds for the first time it will take a little while for the birds to find it, so don’t expect swathes of birds instantly!  And once you start feeding birds, it is best if you can consistently feed them, especially in winter, as they may come to rely on your offerings.

Have fun and do remember to report back here and let me know what birds you have seen in your garden!  You may also attract other animals, such as squirrels, which are again fascinating to watch.  My parents have accumulated four regular squirrel visitors to their garden this winter, and it has been a lot of fun watching them find inventive and unusual ways to get to the food in the feeders!

* Main photo from here

10 comments

  1. Yes – the waxwings are still here! We’ve never seen them before here, but they really seem to have made our tree their home for the past two months! Long tailed tits – gosh, they are so cute!

    Reply
  2. You can find everything you need for year-round bird feeding here at really reasonable prices. Their suet products are especially good!

    Reply
  3. Enjoyed this a lot! Coming up to winter, food getting scarce for the brave birds that stick it out here in the north so it’s great to know there are people out there supporting our wildlife through the toughest season! Great post, thanks!

    Reply
  4. We moved into a new build house 2years ago and we lots of different birds in our garden. But since more houses have been built we don’t get many birds are we doing something wrong.

    Reply
  5. HELP! I have got 6 bird feeders hanging in the apple tree, some filled with mixed wild bird food, some with sunflower seeds, meal worms and 5 fat balls down the garden. On the other side of the fence my neighbour has a similar set up in his pear tree. His feeders can have as many as 20 birds fighting for places, not one comes on mine and the fat balls are not touched. Anyone got any ideas as to were I am going wrong?

    Reply
    • Hi Paula, in the wild, birds are unlikely to take harmful amounts of salt, however from what I understand, like humans, birds can’t process large amounts of salt in their diet and may suffer renal failure and other health issues,

      Reply
  6. I have a bird feeder in the garden but no birds – the odd sparrow, could this be because we are within a mile of the Red Kite feeding station. They are beautiful but I do love the smaller varieties

    Reply

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