• Fiona Ferguson

Bird Feeding 101

Blue tit eatng from a peanut feeder

This is a difficult time of year for birds, especially for small one who have to expend energy trying to compete with larger more aggressive birds for the available resources. There is little wild food available at this time of year and the drop in temperatures, along with the frost and snow in some places, makes it harder for them to scavenge for scraps.

Here are a few quick ideas which will bring the birds into your garden and you can enjoy their antics from the comfort of your own home! Look here for a guide to who is dining in your garden.

(1) Commercial Bird Feeders

The simplest option is to buy dedicated bird feeders, many of which are preloaded with suitable feed, and hang them on branches, bird tables or other garden furniture visible from a window.

The feeders are usually refillable so pick up a couple of bags of feed at the same time. In this cold weather try to pick up a high energy mix with a high fat content, birds will expend a lot of energy searching for food and staying warm in winter.

Different food will also attract different species, try some mealworms for your friendly garden robin or nyger seeds for finches.

Many retailers have special offers on feeders and bird food at the moment so shop around and it is likely to cost less than you would imagine. It is important to wash your feeders when refilling to avoid spreading disease and wear gloves when handling them.

(2) Do it yourself

You don't have the splash the cash to attract nature into your garden, you can find a lot of suitable feed in your own kitchen. You can safely scatter oat or maize flakes for ground feeders, as well as sliced apples or grapes to attract thrushes and blackbirds.

You can make your own bird cake by:
· Pouring melted fat (suet or lard) onto a mixture of ingredients such as seeds, nuts, dried fruit, oatmeal, cheese and cake.
· Use about one-third fat to two-thirds mixture. Stir well in a bowl and allow it to set in a container of your choice.
· An empty coconut shell or plastic cup makes an ideal bird cake ‘feeder’.
· Alternatively, you can turn it out onto your bird table when solid.
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

If using shop bought fat balls, remove any netting before hanging them out as birds can become entangled in it.

Or use the ever useful pinecones – mix bird seed mix with peanut butter and push into the gaps on an open pine cone, tie a length of twine to it, hang it outside and hey presto a mini bird feeder!

Child Making a Natural Bird feeder out of Peanut Butter and Birdseed

Alternatively paste peanut butter on a cardboard toilet roll or kitchen roll and roll in a seed mix, suspend from tree branch with twine. Maybe stick a wooden skewer through the bottom for birds to use as a perch!

In very cold weather, cheese scattered on the ground beneath bushes should attract wrens and help them through difficult conditions.
- Birdwatch Ireland

(3) Provide Water

Just as important as providing food is making sure there is an adequate supply of water. This is vital not just for hydration but also to allow them bathe and maintain their feathers so they can keep warm. Don’t forget to put out fresh water as often as possible and break the ice if it is frozen.

(4) Bird feeding no-no’s

There are several things you should not feed birds under any circumstances. Top of the list is modern processed bread which is not suitable for birds, neither should you feed them dry bread of any kind. It can expand in their stomachs with fatal consequences.

Other no-no’s include desiccated coconut, uncooked rice, raw meat, milk and salty food. As mentioned clean the bird feeders regularly but also clear up any uneaten feed from around the ground on regular basis to avoid attracting unwelcome wildlife! You can avoid too much waste by using good quality feed without excess “filler”.

(5) Keep feeding

Commercial bird food

Bird conservation organizations warn that birds will quickly become dependent on a food source, especially in cold weather, so once you start putting food out try to keep the feeders topped up on a regular basis and you will be rewarded with regular feathered visitors!

(6) Bird friendly gardening

You can also do your bit to feed the bird by encouraging or planting natural food sources within your garden such as ivy, teasel, fruit trees, also holly, hawthorn, and elder flower. Allowing plants to go to seed can produce a rich source of food for all kinds of wildlife. Don’t use pesticides or herbicides in your garden which can have negative effects on birds, not to mention killing off the insects they feed on.

Happy birdwatching!

Sources/further info: Birdwatch Ireland - https://www.birdwatchireland.ie/Portals/0/pdfs/GBS_Feeding_Wild_Birds_Factsheet_2007.pdf

RSPB – https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/feeding-birds/

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