What do I need to know about feeding garden birds?

It might sound daft but there’s a bit more to feeding the birds than putting out birdseed. Jean Vernon offers some timely advice.

Richard's bird food taste test

If you are starting out feeding the birds that visit your garden, the first thing you need to know is that it is a wonderful, amazing interaction with wildlife and the start of something really magical. Wild birds are fabulous creatures that need plenty of support, but there are a few basic things you need to understand. Sadly bird flu is still a problem this season, so it’s even more important to keep your feeders and bird feeding area really clean. Clean and change the water in bird drinkers and bird baths regularly. For more advice about keeping our wild birds safe the RSPB has timely advice here.

How to feed garden birds

You don’t actually need any special feeders or devices when starting to feed garden birds. That’s because many of them are ground feeders and will hoover up the morsels of food from the ground, but do remember, many other creatures will also be attracted not just to the bird food, but also to the birds. To cater for as many types of birds as you can, a bird feeding station or a bird table can offer different ways to present the food out of reach of predators. Place your feeder in the open, away from fences and trees where cats might be able to surprise your feathered friends.

Why choose suet for autumn and winter feeding?

If you’ve never fed the birds suet you will be surprised, not just how much they love suet balls, but also how easy it is to add suet balls to your offering.

Autumn is a tough time for wildlife and especially for our garden birds. Even if you already feed the birds, you can turbo-charge your feeding regime with high energy suet balls.

Richard’s fat balls are, as you would expect, top notch! In fact, they are the ultimate choice for fast feeding the garden birds and offer optimum nourishment because they have been made from the very best ingredients.

robin on feeder eating seed and nut suet balls
High Energy Seed & Nut Suet Balls are ideal for supporting birds through the autumn and winter. Image: Richard Jackson Garden

The suet, is a ‘Super Suet’ providing twice the energy as ‘normal’ suet and this is great way to boost the birds in autumn when they are moulting and feeding up before colder weather. The extra fat content keeps the suet balls softer, even in cold weather so that the energy rich food is easily available when the birds need it the most.

Richard’s new High Energy Seed & Nut Suet Balls are soft and crumbly so that the birds exert less effort for a higher reward, fast. They are a great way to feed up the ground feeding birds like the robins, thrushes, blackbirds, dunnocks, chaffinches, wrens and starlings. But they are also enriched with ‘Super Suet’ that contains twice as much fat content. This gives the birds superior support when they need it the most. But there’s more. The new formulation includes two of the birds’ most-loved and most-nutritious foods; sunflower seeds and kibbled peanuts. These extra ingredients support a healthy heart, skin and bones and provide essential fat, fibre and minerals. Together these help the birds grow stronger bones, a healthier immune system and ‘beef-up’ their egg shells ensuring a successful brood of chicks in the spring.

High Energy Suet Balls broken in half
Sunflower seeds & kibbled peanuts are highly nutritious and loved by birds. Image: Richard Jackson Garden

Not all bird food is the same

Take a look at the bird food choice in the garden centre and the range of prices can be bewildering. You can buy very cheap bird food, but be careful. Like many things in life it’s best to buy the best quality you can afford. And that’s because cheap bird food is full of fillers like wheat grains and flakes and other material with little nutritional value to most garden birds. Look carefully at the mix. Are the sunflowers, for example, still in their seed coats? If so, the birds will have to work extra hard to get the seed out and they will make a mess dropping the shells to the floor. In the coldest weather, this extra exertion of energy is costly to such small creatures searching for food, not to mention the mess it makes. Bargain blends won’t always support or attract many of the garden birds you want to help.

The key ingredients in a good bird food are hulled (shelled) sunflowers and peanuts (these should be kibbled/chopped in bird seed mix to prevent choking or can be presented whole on their own in a peanut feeder that allows the birds to peck them smaller). Other quality ingredients include energy rich suet pellets, protein rich mealworms, millet, naked oats and nyger seeds. If you buy a quality food such as Richard Jackson Premium High Energy Bird Food you will attract and support a wide range of wild birds into your garden. Richard Jackson’s Bird Food has been enhanced with more small seeds to attract a wider variety of small bird species to your garden.

Richard’s High Energy Bird Food ingredients. Image: Richard Jackson Garden

Small beginnings

Birds become accustomed to food sources, so when you first put a feeder out don’t fill it the top, just add a little food and see what happens. If the birds don’t find it in a few days you may need to take the food out, clean the feeder and start again. When the birds start feeding in earnest you can top the feeders up as often as you like and then sit back and enjoy the entertainment.

Neat and tidy

Birds can be messy feeders so even if you choose a low waste or no mess mix, be sure to place a tray underneath the feeding station to catch what they drop. A build up can attract the unwanted attentions of rodents. It’s important to keep things neat and tidy. Add any spilled feed back to the bird table and remove anything else away from the house. Try feeding less food so that it doesn’t get wasted and dropped. Use a dedicated seed feeder where the smaller birds can feed, rather than spreading it over a bird table, this will reduce seed being knocked around by larger birds. Ground feeding birds such as robins and blackbirds should eat most of what has fallen but make sure the local cats aren’t able to access your feeding area by stealth. If left in situ and not eaten your fallen bird food has the potential to sprout and grow into an eclectic mix of plants that you possibly wouldn’t choose to grow on your plot. So put a tray underneath and clear it up. Keep your bird bath and feeders clean. Wash them out regularly using a wildlife suitable disinfectant and remove any wet or mouldy food from the bird table and feeders before it starts to decompose.

High Energy Bird Food
Image: Richard Jackson Garden

Unwelcome attention

Bird food can also be easy pickings for squirrels and other hungry creatures. If you want to prevent squirrels from feasting on your bird feeders choose a squirrel resistant design that prevents these acrobats from robbing the feeders. There is a wide range of squirrel resistant designs, some of which also preclude large birds from feeding. You can also mix chilli flakes into your bird food, which will help stop food thieves of all sorts. Buying in bulk can save you money but you need to consider your storage facilities. Bird food needs to be stored somewhere cool and dry.

If you are storing large bags of bird food in the shed or garage, it’s a good idea to choose a metal storage container that can’t be accessed by rodents, or other pests. You can store your bird food in an attractive metal bin that will fit large bags of bird food and use a handy metal scoop to transfer the seed to the feeder without spillage. Check whether the bin is designed for indoor use only. If you need to store bird food outside then use a metal dustbin and ensure that the lid is weighted down and that the food is stored carefully inside and kept dry at all times. Clear up any seed that you drop on the ground to avoid attracting trouble.


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