Feeding Wild Birds

Feeding wild birds can be very rewarding and pleasurable and at the same time play a part in maintaining wild bird numbers. Although farmers, in conjunction with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and government schemes, are playing an increasingly important role in feeding wild birds, this article will focus on feeding wild birds in the garden. I will also focus on feeding wild birds in the UK, although the main principles will apply worldwide. Some people start feeding wild birds in the winter but it is an activity that can bring pleasure and benefit birds throughout the year. You may start by feeding wild birds bread and then progress to seeds and even live food to attract and nourish a wider range of species.

Feeding Wild Birds in the Garden

The UK is an overcrowded island and natural, wild places are rare and increasingly under threat. Gardens are important in providing places of refuge and nourishment for many birds. Nearly all birds are migratory to at least some degree and gardens provide corridors, linking wild environments, that birds may use as they migrate across the countryFeeding Wild Birds Like This Robin (34787).
Any bird feeding is useful but to make the most of this activity and really help the birds you need to feed very regularly and if possible every day. Birds are creatures of habit and if they find out there is a regular supply of food in your garden they will keep returning. Ideally you should feed every day and at approximately the same time. Birds will get to know you and your routines. Eventually some of the tamer wild birds such as Robins may even feed from your hand! However the most important message is that any bird feeding is better than none.

Feeding Wild Birds Bread

Bread is acceptable but it has a low nutritional value and is just a filler. Just as for humans brown bread is better than white! Breadcrumbs are better than dry chunks of bread which could choke juveniles in the breeding season.

How to Feed Wild Birds

This will depend on your garden, your time and your budget. Lets look at what you could do in a small garden on a very limited budget. If you shop around you should be able to pick up a covered bird-table, a couple of squirrel proof wire bird feeders (mesh bag feeders should be avoided as they may trap birds feet) and a water bowl for about £30. This is a relatively small outlay for a lifetime’s hobby. It makes sense to buy from the RSPB (a non profit making charity) or at least buy RSPB approved equipment.
Ideally bird tables and feeders should be close to a large shrub or small tree so that birds may quickly take refuge. They should also be cleaned regularly to avoid spreading infection. Water in a clean bowl should be always available.
Different types of food will attract different types of bird. If you are on a tight budget some households scraps make excellent bird foods. Over ripe fruits (birds are lot less fussy than humans) will attract blackbirds and thrushes. Uncooked porridge oats are useful for most birds. Grated, stale cheese has a high fat content and is great for birds. Robins seem to be particularly fond of cheese and if you want them feeding from your hand try cheese. All types of potato (mashed, baked or roasted) are good for birds. Ground feeding birds such as Sparrows will love crumbs (as for humans, cake is better than bread!). You can make fat-balls from suet or lard mixed with some oats, crumbs, stale cheese and overripe fruit. Unlike humans, birds actually need a high fat content diet especially in cold weather.

Buying Food for Birds

There is a wide range of foods available including:-

Peanuts & Coconuts (small nuts should be placed in a wire mesh) - Tits and Woodpeckers
Wild seed mixtures- Finches
Sunflowers seeds- Finches (especially Goldfinches)
Live Mealworms and waxworms- Nearly all garden birds apart from finches

Again I would recommend buying from RSPB approved supplier.

Feeding Wild Birds in Winter

Feeding wild birds is for life not just for Christmas. However in winter you might want to consider feeding more often if possible and using more high fat, high energy foods. Perhaps the most important point is to provide regular drinking water especially when temperatures are sub-zero.

Developing Your Feeding Wild Birds Hobby

Recording your bird observations every day will build your interest and over time it is fascinating to see if the trends you notice in your garden mirror national trends. For example will the recent declines in Starling and House Sparrow numbers continue? At the very least you should take part in the world’s largest bird survey, the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch (next one is January 29th/30th 2011). In 2010 the RSPB received results from over 280,000 gardens. The survey only takes one hour, you may enter your results online and the data enables the RSPB to share accurate information about how our most loved garden birds are performing.
To get up close to some of the shyer birds you should consider binoculars, good quality optics are not cheap but they will last a lifetime. You could also consider bird photography. In order to get excellent photos you could try “digiscoping” (fitting a digital camera to a telescope using an adapter). You maybe inspired by your garden birds to venture further afield. The RSPB has many local groups and your county’s wildlife trust will also provide opportunities for field trips and friendly advice.

Feeding Wild Birds UK

The UK is a very much a nation of bird lovers. The RSPB has over 1 million members, that’s getting on for one in fifty of our total population. In even the most urban environments wild birds can bring us back to nature and knowing that birds are totally free give us the feeling of wilderness and freedom. Anyone can feed wild birds and it is totally life affirming.

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