Feed the birds

Winter survival strategies

The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) now advocate all year round feeding of garden birds. Nevertheless most people traditionally start to feed the birds during late autumn.

The RSPB's 'Feed the Birds Day' coincides with the end of British Summer Time. The advice on this page will enable you to ensure that your garden birds stand a better chance of surviving the winter, and also encourage a wider variety of birds to visit your garden. Make sure that the feeders are full for the birds' early morning feeding and again for their pre-dusk feed.

Some winter food suggestions

Click on any of the pictures for an enlarged view

sunflower hearts peanut suet feast chopped peanuts bird cake mix
sunflower hearts - high energy food, rich in oils
peanut suet feast - mixed seeds encased in solidified suet
peanuts - unsalted & chopped to avoid choking young birds
bird cake mix- may also be mixed with melted fat

From our experience the best of the 'straight' foods are undoubtedly sunflower hearts i.e. sunflowers without the seed case. All birds, and garden mammals such as badgers relish them and there is no waste. Forget the human's maxim 'low in fat, high in polyunsaturates', as birds need just the opposite to survive the winter. A fat rich peanut suet feast will attract members of the tit family and also the attentions of acrobatic starlings! I always find that peanuts are less popular than other foods. Maybe our birds are inherently lazy. It takes much more effort to peck at them in traditional feeders whereas the other food we supply is 'fast, takeaway food', and is just as appetizing. I now chop the peanuts (make sure they're unsalted) in a food blender before scattering them on the bird table. As a former Yorkshireman I find this a bonus, as they go further that way (!) and, more importantly, they will not then choke young birds.

A selection of feeders

Click on any of the pictures for an enlarged view

metal seed ports are 'squirrel proof' a specific feeder ensures that whole peanuts cannot be taken suet feast feeder - refills can be purchased niger seed - popular with goldfinches and siskins niger seed feeder
seed feeder
with metal ports
peanut feeder
with suet covered peanuts
suet feast feeder
(not squirrel or starling proof!)
niger seed - a favourite
of goldfinches
niger seed feeder

Suspended feeders are primarily used by agile birds such as tits, greenfinches, goldfinches and sparrows. Site your feeders safely, and preferably within easy reach of neighbouring trees or shrubs. Try and have feeders in several locations to minimize bottlenecks of birds at peak feeding times. Grey squirrels will soon gnaw their way through cheap feeders, so consider feeders with metal ports, and sturdy peanut feeders to ensure maximum squirrel resistance. Red coloured peanut feeders are allegedly an attraction for siskins. Avoid the red mesh peanut bags. They are easily damaged by squirrels and small birds can get their feet caught in them. If goldfinches regularly visit your garden, the addition of niger seed will encourage them to return. Niger seed needs a specific feeder. A tray is useful to catch the spillages which can then be eaten by the goldfinches and other birds such as siskins. A winter bird food mix that includes raisins and sultanas will attract song birds such as blackbirds and thrushes.

The bird table, water supply and other winter 'survival aids'

Click on any of the pictures for an enlarged view

bird tables encourage the ground feeders and less agile birds provide fresh water for both drinking and bathing nest boxes - used by winter roosting birds cotoneaster rowan berries
food includes suet, bird cake mix, sunflower hearts, crushed peanuts and niger seed
make sure that water is always available
boxes may be used by birds for winter roosting
cotoneaster and rowan berries will be relished by garden birds. Also consider pyracantha, hawthorn, holly, rosehips, honeysuckle and wild privet

Not all birds are able to use feeders, so consider a bird table to encourage 'ground feeding' birds such as blackbirds, robins, thrushes, wrens, dunnocks and chaffinches. If cats are a problem this is a safer arrangement than feeding directly on the ground. Bird tables do not need to be a fancy arrangement; a simple board, with edges to stop the food blowing away is quite adequate. It's what you put on it that matters! Fat, chopped up bacon rind, jacket or roasted potatoes, sultanas and raisins, grated cheese, bruised apples and pears, plus a varied seed mix will help to attract a wide range of birds. When the weather is harsh, birds that would not normally visit your garden will come to your bird table, just to enable them to survive. Birds need a supply of clean, fresh water every day. This is particularly important when the ground is frozen. Birds also use the water for bathing and keeping their feathers in good condition. Clean the bird table and feeders regularly to prevent the spread of diseases. Nest boxes may be used as roosting sites during the winter and then used for nesting in the spring. Birds prefer gardens that are not too tidy. So try and leave part of your garden as a wild area, leave the seed heads on the plants over winter and plant berry bearing shrubs such as cotoneaster, rowan or hawthorn.

All this effort does pay off. We're only 4 miles from the centre of Rochdale, but last winter we counted more than 25 different species of birds in our small garden.

| See the wildlife gardening and wild flowers pages for more suggestions |
| Also the nest box page and sparrow terrace page for bird box plans and the
blue tit cam page that shows how to install a nest box camera |

Top of Page