Feed the birds ,,,

finch 1

As spring is here I thought a very quick post on feeding the birds might be useful.As I have only been feeding birds for a few years and most people who feed birds and bird organisations and charities have their own  hints  on how best to do it I have also posted links to sites offering advice .

To start heres some things that everyone agrees on –

woodpecker back

In one of the rare ways you can make a huge difference .

Garden bird feeders and gardens that are good habitats for birds have played a major role in helping endangered species to survive,they also play a crucial part in providing food for migrating birds and birds overwintering in the UK.By feeding birds in your garden you could help prevent a species becoming localy extinct or give a bird on a journey of thousands of miles some invaluable sustainance

Its rewarding

You can enjoy the sight of beautiful birds all year around and hear their song as you sit in the garden in the warmer months.Some birds prey on garden pests so you may find less damage to plants.Though this also means that if you use anything to poison pests ,such as slug pellets you will also kill the bird.

Its  easy to do and can cost nothing or it can be potentialy expensive

I throw out for the birds all my fruit cores, bruised fruit or overipe (but not mouldy) fruit and lots of birds love this especially black birds and I also use sultanas plus some of our cats and dogs leftover  food and this costs pennies  and avoids waste  but if your wanting to use primarily bought bird foods and use a mixture of different kinds  to attract a range of birds it can be expensive.

feeders garden bluetit

While cheap bird seed mixes that have big pieces of seed are usualy not very good as they will mostly attract pigeons or vermine.You can provide a good meal for a wide range of birds with just two £1 feeders  with a budget of around £1.50 a week for food .You just need some sunflower hearts and fat .Some bought fat balls (50p for 6)fat filled coconut (£1.50 or 50p)or suet block for around £1 these are hung in cheap £1 metal feeders

If you can only use one feeder and dont want to bother daily replacing food or checking it then these are the feeder for you .One or two can be invaluable to birds and if you have just  a few birds visiting  can be checked or refilled only at weekends so no outside trips in dark winter weather.When the birds visiting increased I bought extra feeders and placed them all around the garden so small birds could eat seperatly and all  birds could move to others if one got emptied .Some advise not feeding fat based food in summer I do continue to use them but replace them often if the weather hot ,placing them in shade is also a good idea.

,,this 50p fat filled coconut half is the woodpeckers favourite

woodpercker on coconut garden

It also attracted a nuthatch

nuthatch 1

The second essential is a seed or nut feeder .I  use mesh cages because I can mix peanuts and sunflower hearts in them

 

 

sunflower hearts are by far the most populare food among all kinds of birds,I dont think I have seen any bird refuse them and these are around £2 for a bag which will last between a week and ten days.Less if you have clever squirrels.

 

 

baby squirrel feeded

 

Danger foods

Feeding leftovers can be valuable ,I put out off cuts from meat for the crows ,fruit peelings ,seed from the center of melons ,butternut squash etc but some leftovers are unsuitable ,Fat from roasting tins is usually full of salt and also can foul birds feathers if its liquid .Its unwise to  feed birds any kind of bread. Bread ,especially white bread fills birds up but does not have much value nutritonaly or provide the calories needed. Small birds can fill up on bread but then die of hyperthemia at night as small birds such as blue tits have to eat a huge number of calories to survive cold winter nights.Birds can also develope deformaties if they regualry fill up on bread .Bread in small quantities if fine fo feed bigger birds or the crumbs from a bread board for smaller birds but it is the junk  food of the bird world ,birds who regularly eat mainly bread will become as out of condition as humans who live off mac Donalds take out .It is also likely to attract mice and problem birds such as pigeons.Porridge oats or basic unsweetened musili is a better food ,oats in particular are cheaper than bird feed mixes .Pinhead oatmeal is  supposed to be a slug killer as the slugs enjoy the oatmeal so much they eat too much and explode,I am not sure if this is true but intend to try it this summer.These both need to be fed dry or they will stick to birds beak and can foul their feathers causing diseases.There are other  leftovers that are fine,theres some excellent bird feeding advice here

http://www.rspb.org.uk/makeahomeforwildlife/advice/helpingbirds/feeding/whatfood/scraps.aspx

 

http://www.countryfile.com/explore-countryside/wildlife/how-use-kitchen-scraps-feed-wild-birds

Sultanas are my own personal favourite ,with dried catfood for the meat eaters,I throw these out at night so they soften and early rising birds beat the pigeons to them,Hedgehogs also love these and become regular visitors ,in winter these can be a lifesaver for small hedgehogs trying to make a hibernation weight at which they can survive or for hedgehogs that wake up to feed in deep winter when there’s no other food around ,these will then usually go back into hibernation and wake successfully whereas otherwise they may search for non existent  food  .

Attracting  and helping birds without using food.

A very cheap way to attract birds and provide a priceless essential and life saving resource for almost  no effort is to put out water ,this doesn’t need to be a special bird bath as long as its shallow ,I used a terracotta shallow casserole dish big enough to also be used as a bird bath.You could also use a shallow plastic tub or plant pot saucer ,even an ordinary saucer is enough for small birds ,all love splashing about in the water

garden bird bath back

Though its not essential I also put out two small shallow bowls of water .Living in Yorkshire these are almost always self replenishing but in winter I add a bit of warm water to thaw them and in summer they may need topping up.

http://www.rspb.org.uk/makeahomeforwildlife/advice/helpingbirds/water/birdbaths.aspx

In spring ,help building their house

Another excellent way to help birds if you have a pet is to throw the fur from grooming them into your garden ,this is used to line nests .I saw a nest at our last house that was lined in the fur from our Belgium Shepard dog and often heard the nestling’s in spring.

For others materials of use check out the following link

http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/funfactsandarticles/features/homesweethome.aspx

Extra notes

Feeding in more detail

Bought food

The Seed mixes you can buy  very cheaply from £1 for a huge bag ,should be thought of much like bread ,ok as a fill in but essentially junk food .The cheap mixes are mostly cheap seeds which either only attract birds like pigeons or are very low in nutritional value so again birds may fill up on stuff that’s not as good for them as other foods but better than going hungry on an icy day.

As a guide for seed mixes if its cheap ,its not good and you get a lot of seed or even fillers such as dried split peas which are  probably not that good.The best overall seed is sunflower hearts ,I dont know one bird which doesn’t eat these including Finches ,tits ,the black caps even the woodpecker and nut hatch locationally snack on them .These are common in stores such as Wilko and pound stretcher were they can be bought in fairly decent sized bags for around £2.00.One bag will last at least a week and usually two  unless your having problems with pigeons or squirrels when you may use double that,These are a perfect high energy nutritious food with no real downside ,its mess free and easy to store. If you  can only put up one feeder then a cage or plastic seed feeder of sunflower hearts is the best one,I would use mesh as it attracts a wider range of birds.Plastic ones however keep seed dry

hedge feeders

.If you can afford two feeders one mesh and one plastic is perfect ,mesh feeders to feed larger birds and the plastic one for smaller birds .There are a lot of bird feeders on the market but I mostly use just the cheap £1 ones ,these last months and are easy to fill and clean.I have one squirrel proof  feeder which is a metal cage around a plastic tubed one,this works pretty well though one or two squirrels tip it up and spill some from time to time starlings and pigeons find it impossible to use.It cost £5 ,theres also a mesh version but the squirrels and starlings have no problem using this.The plastic tubed feeder is useful for ground feeding for the same reason its hard for large birds to use.

If you do buy squirrel proof feeders you will need a plain feeder if you want to attract woodpeckers as these cant use the feeders with metal frames,nor did it seem as though the nuthatch could.

The next cheap feed is peanuts ,Kibbled chopped nuts can often also be bought and these are better than whole nuts in spring so that small birds dont feed chicks big nuts which can choke them or just use mesh feeders so this isn’t a problem. Peanut mesh feeders are around £1 .Dont feed peanuts out of the nets they are sometimes sold in these frequently trap birds claws and cause wounds or death ,even birds freed from them are likely to get the wounds infected and die .Peanuts do sometimes go mouldy which is a health risk for birds,can choke chicks  and if you put them out for bigger birds or squirrels the pigeons eat them  so I have replaced them with plain monkey nuts and I throw these out a few a day for squirrels or if I have time stick them in trees and shrubs,Monkey nuts also attracted Jays,one of our most exotic looking birds

jay 1

Jays may prey on smaller birds in spring but I have not found this a problem as the jays rarely visit for longer than it takes to grab some nuts and mostly appear in winter.Magpies and crows also prey on nestlings so if you have nest boxes protect them with mesh

black caps

If you can only use one feeder and dont want to bother daily replacing food or checking it then these are the feeder for you .One or two can be invaluable to birds and can be checked or refilled only at weekends so no outside trips in dark winter weather.Some advise not feeding fat based food in summer I do continue to use them but replace them if the weather hot ,placing them in shade is also a good idea.

Different foods in principle can attract different and less common birds

My main specialist feeds are freeze dried meal worms which are fairly  cheap 1.70 for a weeks worth ,,which do look a bit unpleasant but are a high protein bird food which robins and blackbirds love and will be certain to attract any hedgehog in the area.

Nyger seed for finches  ,I originaly put this out to attract finches in an expensive  metal feeder ,it didn’t work  but the finches  always liked sunflower hearts .

bullfinch side

I eventualy bought a cheap £1 nyger feeder which is much better and the gold finches use it all the time.

finch and tit garden

If you have space and time its a great idea to put feeders at different levels and in different areas so all birds have an equal chance to eat in their ideal environment,but this isnt really essential

hanging and pole feeders

http://www.rspb.org.uk/makeahomeforwildlife/advice/helpingbirds/feeding/

2/Time and effort

It takes time,again how much time depends on what and how you feed.Throwing out apple cores  or slightly over ripe fruit can be done on your way out of the door to work or on arriving home.Suet and fat feeders will need checking every couple of days  to make sure they haven’t fallen down and maybe filling once a week .If your seed feeding it will take around 5 mins  each day to check feeders and fill them,this might seem nothing and in spring ,autumn or summer its something you will barely notice but in winter when the birds most need food and theres probably the most demand on your feeders ,with short cold days it can seem more of a chore especially if you work and have to do it in the dark and ice cold weather but never see any birds as you are only home in the dark  .It will also take a little time each week to clean seed  and peanut feeders.This is not a messy or long job as birds rarely get mucky but it is essential.Bird feeders are the restaurants and take outs of the bird world, but unlike human restaurants the plates ,cups and tables are not cleaned after each guest has eaten.Fat block feeders are the easiest just bring them in pour boiling water over a few times then refill.

blue tit and nuthatch

Responsible feeding

If your going to regularly feed birds it is likely many or possibly most of those birds that visit have made your garden part of the route they take to gather food .Its not easy to change these routes if the birds visiting are territorial as in other areas the resident birds will chase them off.Such birds include Robins and blackbirds

robin

Other birds such as small birds like blue tits,coal its ,long tailed tis etc

long tailed tits pair garden

can loose up to ten percent of their body mass overnight in cold weather ,these often spend  winter in small flocks to huddle together for warmth and roost near food sources ,these birds need to top up their energy levels each day if you suddenly stop feeding these will need to fly further and spend longer finding alternative foods using valuable energy reserves .

pigeons in sonw

In winter especially if for any reason you will not be feeding the birds for more than one or two days either tail off feeding gradually so the birds start to look elsewhere  or put up extra suet block type feeders  which will empty gradually again allowing birds some time to look elsewhere or ask a neighbour to top up feeders .If you don’t have a neighbour but are paying a house or pet sitter most will also fill up feeders for you free of extra charges.charges.do not be tempted to feed extra for the days before you go to make up for days without food,most birds don’t store food ,it will just possibly attract more birds who then also don’t have food or use up the food in feeders even more quickly.Likewise if your moving house began to trail off feeding for as soon as possible in advance.

Some suggest only feeding in winter and stopping in spring,however birds are just as at need of food in spring ,shrubs and trees which didnt have berries in winter still dont have berries in spring and by spring winter berries and winter stores are often at an all time low ,this is at just the point birds need more food as they are raising chicks,The quality of new generations og birds will also be dependent on the quality of food the chicks receive .its also the time when species can be most affected ,garden feeders can provide the food that’s essential for new generations of  endangered  species to survive.If your not going to feed in summer tail off gradually.By not summer feeding you may well miss the chance to see birds which only spend summer here ,British Black caps ,most warblers,Nightingales and many more

green bird middle

Hygiene

Bird feeders do stop birds from starving in bad weather ,save lives of chicks by supplying food in spring and generally make life easier for birds.However it is an unnaturally well attended food source,In the wild birds of different species will rarely feed side by side or food sources be visited by dozens of birds regularly every day.In the wild diseases are therefore unlikely to cross species or affect dozens of birds or sometimes even a whole areas birds.Many birds but especially,birds from the corvids  family which include magpies carry diseases  that are causing concern as they are spreading to other species ,so to do pigeons  .Feeders left un cleaned for weeks or months harbour disease ,this spreads to birds ,you may not see birds sickening or dying but it may well be happening.The increase of disease in finches is seen as linked to the increasing numbers of finches at feeders ,if you cant clean feeders regularly it may be better not to feed or to feed only ground food or at the very least changing where you put food out

Likewise Bird baths are the public swimming pools of the bird world and some birds like some people can have bad habits in the shared pool.However seeing the delight of birds using these is more than worth the minute or two spent Changing the water and giving them a wipe.I usually do this in situe outside just tip up the bowl to empty it ,wipe around with kitchen role pour a kettle of water over it and then top it up with more water.

garden back garden bird bath

http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/gbw/gardens-wildlife/garden-birds/feeding/hygiene

3/Responsibilty 

It is a regular commitment ,how big a commitment depends on how your intend to feed and for how much of the year.If your just throwing out apples this is next to nothing ,Suet blocks maybe five minutes a week or less .Seed feeding by contrast is a bigger commitment a few minutes  a day  every day for the period you have decided  to feed.Maybe every day or every other day  either all winter or all year.You need to ensure you plan ahead and buy food when you shop .It needs storing suitably we store ours in the same cupboard as out pets food .

brown blackbrid

 

4/It can in rare cases be upsetting  or annoying ,but its always a delight .You may get the odd bully bird such as pigeons or magpies which guzzle all the food meant for the ones which really need it .

pigeons roof

These are fairly easy to deter Pigeons by avoiding ground feeding . (I have a post on this here https://hathawaysofhaworth.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/garden-birds-the-problem-with-pigeons/

Magpies by placing shiny ornaments around the garden where they like to land.I used an old silver glazed tea service and some bought stainless steel balls but theres also those hanging swirly things  so it doesnt have to look unsightly .These will deter other birds if they are near feeders but on shed roofs or other high places they will mostly just deter magpies .but can be annoying and messy until they move on .What is probably more upsetting is that on rare occasions predator birds attracted by what is in effect an all you can eat buffet .

hawk

These may swoop on small birds or young birds and swoop off with them,many birds of prey  that eat small mammals and birds are endangered species so this is an essential food source.Not all birds of prey eat live food ,many scavenge and may just fancy a snack from your feeder if your putting out cat or dog food .I have been feeding birds for several years and never seen this but other feeders have seen it once or twice ,usually in spring when these birds do themselves have young to feed. Its also the case than some feeders can attract mice.I find this has never been a problem as we both own cats and are happy to have cats in our garden.

izzy and pigeons

If you have  even one cat regularly  passing through your garden this is also unlikely to ever be a problem. some cats may take fledglings or ground feeding birds but this is much rarer than the outrage expressed by garden feeders suggests ,we have had ten cats over 50 years only one  managed to catch birds and not regularly.One or two garden visiting cats chase them not none has ever caught one.Place feeders in spaces that cats cant sneak up on birds in and if your going to encourage nesting birds protect both the nest box and the ground below.All the birds caught by cats are from gardens ,in the wild feral and wild species of cats rarely prey on birds .Man creates a killing space for cats so needs to be conscious of this ,as with Foxes who kill family rabbits or birds,it is our fault if animals which are following instincts over which they have no control kill animals we have placed in harms way.

Its very easy  to prevent  all these problems if you avoid ground feeding seed as this is the primary source of all problems ,bully birds,cat kills and vermin.

Other pests

If you live in an area where they are common you will almost certainly attract squirrels

squirel nut.They dont really do any major damage if you have a standard garden and a lawn that’s for use not show ,but they do tend to eat more food than birds alone.If you do have a prize lawn the squirrels may try to hide nuts in it leaving bits of loose turf ,on a normal lawn you may not even notice.Our lawn below has a number of busy squirrels regularly excavating yet I rarely notice it from the house.

garden back tree part spring

.I utilised this habit by making the holes bigger and putting spring bulbs in it ,,saving me the time and effort of digging holes myself. Squirrels can also damage shrubs though I have never seen this in our garden which is full of saplings and shrubs grown from cuttings.Its claimed squirrels are responsible for song bird deaths but our local woods are full of both squirrels and song birds of all sizes so I suspect man rather than squirrels are the main threat.They do carry a disease “Squirrell pox which infects red squirrels so in areas were you have red squirrles you may want to discourage greys.Our area does not ,nor ever has had reds  so I find the delight of watching the squirrels worth the slight lawn damage .

squirrel sat

and later their young running about the garden and their utter joy at burying nuts one of my great delights from  garden feeding ,they are also great at cleaning up fallen seed that would otherwise attract vermin .Despite the wide number of  assorted marketed feeders its unlikely you will find one that entirely  excludes them as they are ingenious stealing feed from feeders in numerous acrobatic ways.

squirrel on feeder

 

squirrel close up

Its also very funny watching them run about carefully hiding their nuts only to watch the magpies follow them around stealing them out of the holes or the squirrels find ways to carry food far too big for them.

squirel fat ball

The Benefits.

Bird feeding is a brilliant way to see wildlife in action ,for adults and children ,Its unlikely I would ever have got this close to a woodpecker ,nuthatch or goldfinch if I didn’t feed birds.

woodpecker back

You will with a doubt positively affect the birds chances of surviving hard times especially the smaller birds such as blue tits ,finches and sparrows.You can do this for only a few pence a day and a minute or two a day.

sparrow

 

Literally protecting dangered species from extinction

You can and probably will have a positive effect on helping birds which are in danger of becoming rare or even extinct .some of these birds were once common such as the sparrows  above.Many species of birds have been brought back from being endangered species almost certainly entirely by the efforts of people feeding birds in their garden.Some other birds are still endangered ,these are common ones easy to attract to feeders such as ,Starlings and house sparrows .Hedgehogs which are often attracted by the scraps that fall from feeders are more endangered than many famous species such as Tigers.Its rare if at all you can directly prevent a species  becoming extinct by spending just a few pence a day and a few minutes a weel ,in the time taken to watch a WWF advert you can help save a species .

Bird song

Another great delight that will enhance the pleasure you get from your garden ,even on those days when you are not outside but have windows open is the song of the birds ,many common birds and those with the most beautiful song such as robins who will also often follow you around the garden and who always brighten up wintry days.At dusk its song can be mistaken for that of a nightingale ,yet unlike the nightingale its a common all year around visitor

robin

 

The blackbirds is probably the next most delightful songster ,though they do have an early start,the song “morning  has broken  like the first morning ,blackbird has spoken like the first bird” is a pretty accurate observation of the first bird to start the “dawn chorus”Yet it song isn’t merely confined to dawn ,is quite and varied .

Of course other Thrushes and the larks ,warblers and many other birds also have beautiful songs but these may not always be regular visitors to all gardens.

The visual pleasure of seeing birds.

blue tits

Many birds will not only be visible through your window then fly away shyly as you come into the garden ,several will become confident enough to come to feeders or hop around quite close while your outside,these include the robin ,chaffinches ,blue tits ,blackbirds .Some people have managed to get birds such as robins and rare visitors such as siskins to feed from their hands,though this seems unwise in a world were sadly not everyone is kind to the over trusting bird.

Ecology

You can actually have a major effect on evolution and birds habits ,its very rare that humans can have a rapid and positive effect on evolution but this occurs not infrequently in feeding garden birds.A recent example is the black cap .UK native black caps fly to warmer climes for winter ,but now thanks to garden feeders European Black caps are becoming common as winter visitors to garden feeders,these blackbirds from areas were winters are colder and longer would normally take much longer more hazardous journeys,but have quickly learned what would normally be just a stopping off point here in the UK is actually a great place to overwinter .  These birds have already had slight changes in their physic and now have established this change in migration habits.These UK overwintering birds arrive back at their homes sooner and less tired than those still making longer journeys so are more successful at breeding and raising young .

black cap

 

If you participate in the RSPB big garden bird watch once a year you can for an hours work give invaluable information on which species are in trouble and which are common ,You will also leave behind a lasting legacy of information on bird species, its not often from our living room we can provide essential scientific information and be a part of a national event

If you are feeding birds and want to identify them this is invaluable

http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdidentifier/

The images are not always clear but if you use the name of the bird you think is the right one to do a google image search its usually possible to identify every bird you have visit

http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdidentifier/

For the great garden bird watch information see the link below

https://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdwatch/?utm_source=bbcwebsite&utm_medium=online&utm_content=bgbwlink&utm_campaign=birdwatch

By far the best ways to help birds in every way is to plant a hedge and make a small pond or add a water feature which is accessible to birds.I will shortly have a post on creating hedges completed but as regards ponds I dont currently have any practical experience on creating a large pond  though I do know at least one side must slope to avoid drowing hedgehogs and many each year die from drowning ,its also needed so birds and frogs can get to the water.For birds  a pebble fountain or self contained wall fountain is all that’s needed as a water source,Never put chemicals of any kind in these especially anti freeze which poisonous  to children, wildlife and pets ,many  children have been poisoned some fatally and yearly many ,many cats and some dogs die yearly from drinking antifreeze  or water from ponds which had had it added as antifreeze is that deadly mix of something harmful which is sweet tasting.

The following links may be useful

https://www.rspb.org.uk/makeahomeforwildlife/

https://www.rspb.org.uk/

https://www.rspb.org.uk/news/397372-fewer-finches-visiting-our-gardens-

http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/funfactsandarticles/features/coldweather.aspx

 

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About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
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