What do I need to know about feeding the 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

Put out food for the birds. Whole peanuts can be presented in special mesh feeders Image: Martin Mulchinock
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If you are starting out feeding the birds 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.

How to feed

You don’t actually need any special feeders or devices to start feeding the birds. That’s because many of them are ground feeders and will hoover up the morsels of food from the ground, but … remember that 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.

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.

Attract more garden birds to your feeders with small, nutrient rich seeds
Image: Martin Mulchinock

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’s Premium Bird Food you will attract and support a wide range of wild birds into your garden. This year it has been enhanced with more small seeds to attract a wider variety of small bird species to your 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.

Put out food for the birds. Whole peanuts can be presented in special mesh feeders
Image: Martin Mulchinock

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.

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. There’s a Richard’s Choice Squirrel Resistant Bird Feeder here that should outwit most of your resident squirrels leaving the food for the birds.

It’s been improved and updated and now includes a special seal to stop the food getting wet in heavy rain. The feeder features a mesh cage, made from strong gauge powder-coated iron and it contains a feeder tube with four feeding ports. This clever design helps provide a safe haven for smaller birds to feed in peace, without the disturbance of larger birds and squirrels.

You can also mix chili 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.

Keep your bird food safe and dry with a metal bird food bin

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 this attractive metal bin that will fit the large bags of Richard’s bird food and it includes a handy metal scoop to transfer the seed to the feeder without spillage. It’s designed for indoor use only, so don’t be tempted to keep it outside. 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.

 

 

 

Jean Vernon

About Jean Vernon

Jean Vernon is a slightly quirky, bee friendly, alternative gardener. She doesn’t follow the rules and likes to push the boundaries a bit just to see what happens. She has a fascination for odd plants, especially edibles and a keen interest in growing for pollinators especially bees. She’s rather obsessed with the little buzzers. Telegraph Gardening Correspondent, mostly testing and trialing products and Editor-In-Chief for Richard Jackson’s Garden.
@TheGreenJeanie
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