how to feed wild birds in your garden

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

urbanara

Shopping with a Conscience: Supporting the Syria Crisis Appeal with URBANARA

urbanara

Online homewares store URBANARA has teamed up with OXFAM this winter to give £5 from the sale of every blanket to the Syria Crisis Appeal.  Why blankets?  URBANARA say that the blanket offers everything the home symbolises – security, warmth and comfort.  They are also one of URBANARA’s most popular products, so they can count on plenty of donations on behalf of customers.

Sam from URBANARA explains their involvement with OXFAM:

“During the past two years, the world has watched as Syria has torn itself in half. Beginning with peaceful protests in the autumn of 2011, Syria has descended into possibly the most sectarian, devastating and protracted conflict of the 21st century.  Yet its effect on the lives of the innocent civilian population has only recently begun to be addressed. Since the start of the uprising against the regime of Baschar Al Assad during the Arab Spring, this internal conflict has transformed into a war characterised by sectarian division, foreign jihadists, government suppression and most alarmingly of all, brutal civilian massacres. But where has this left the population of Syria, who asked for nothing more than freedom of expression and belief, but who have been thrust into this cataclysmic conflict?

Recent statistics from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees sets the number of refugees at 100,000 people during the month of January 2013, bringing the total to just over 700,000 people dispersed between Syria’s neighbouring countries; Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan.  There appears to be no immediate let up in this devastating conflict.  Despite continuing efforts to unite an increasingly fractured and radicalised opposition movement, and efforts to bring both the government and the opposition to the table, the conflict still appears to be deepening, further pushing innocent civilians to leave the conflict zones and attempt to cross the border to the safety of of the refugee camps.

But to what kind of safety?  This winter has been particularly harsh. With temperatures dropping, the tens of thousands of refugees seeking shelter are forced to spend the winter in tents without basic heat or adequate access to water, sanitation and other basic needs. While some have relatives or friends in Lebanon and Jordan with whom they can stay, there are many who are left to fend for themselves against the elements including a large amount of sick and elderly, wounded and children.  At places such as Zaatari in Jordon, and the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, people are living in the most squalid of conditions.

Despite the scope of the international community’s operations to relieve the pressure on these people, organisations such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent are declaring that they can no longer cope with the worsening situation, describing the levels of international aid as being ‘drastically insufficient for a steadily worsening crisis’.  With the camps overflowing, many people have resorted to staying outside of the registered areas; as much as 40% of refugees in some places.  In places such as the Bakaar Valley in Lebanon, Médecins Sans Frontières has recently reported that as many as 220,000 Syrians that have escaped the conflict cannot obtain the necessary healthcare and infrastructure due to their lack of formal registration.  As many as 70% of those who arrive are being forced to spend the winter months housed in substandard collective shelters, farms, garages, building sites and old schools in an effort to find any protection against the elements outside of the refugee camps.

This exposure to the elements has meant an increase in health conditions, especially of the skin and respiratory system. Children are again, the ones who are suffering most from this lack of healthcare.  There is a lack of basic medicine, vaccinations, prescription drugs, effective pre-natal care, and combined with the savage weather conditions has only contributed to the extended suffering of the Syrian people.

So what can be done to help this seemingly impossible situation? Some, such our company, have decided to step into help. While only a small step on such a imposing mountain, we’ve have teamed up with OXFAM to try to offer some small relief to the Syrian people. Through a £5 donation from every blanket that they sell, OXFAM will be able to provide blankets, mattresses and warm clothes as well as social support, post traumatic stress counselling and basic water and sanitation services.

Through this small macro level support, we really believe that people can make a difference. Despite worldwide government inaction and an increasingly devastating and divided conflict, any small show of hope for these long suffering people will ease the pain of existing away from their homes, their livelihoods and their country. We believe whole heartedly that this small scale donation effort is the way forward. With the United Nations Commission on Human Rights suggesting that the levels of international aid is too low, it is down to those who have a true desire to improve these peoples situation that will make the greatest changes to the lives of the thousands of refugees that have fled the conflict”.

To read more about URBANARA’s involvement in the Syria Crisis Appeal you can visit their website, and browse their selection of beautiful blankets:

urbanara blankets

ethical blankets

If you enjoyed this post then there are lots of ways to follow along as I discuss different ways to live a greener life.  You can follow Moral Fibres on TwitterFacebook,  Instagram, and Pinterest