016: Feed the birds in your garden or locality

Cost of taking action: £/$/€ LOW

Feeding the birds can be fun and involve the whole family. You don’t even really have to have a garden because even in urban areas you can help your local bird population.

Just take a few minutes each day to put out some food and water and watch the response.

This article is based on information found at the RSPB website in the UK, but many other countries have similar organisations which can provide you with advice.

Why is this action helpful for our environment?

  • It helps with bird health. Birds in areas with garden feeders are in overall better health than those in places without, so just feeding them makes a world of difference.
  • It can supplement natural food sources. Unsurprisingly, flying requires massive amounts of calories, so feeders are a really helpful supplement for wild birds’ ferocious feeding.
  • Birds benefit from year-round access to bird feeders. When natural food sources are frozen or covered in snow, they provide an important and easily accessible food supply for winter birds.
  • Plentiful food sources along migration routes give birds energy for the journey. Birds are driven to migrate by instinct, changing weather, and length of days, so feeding birds won’t cause them to miss their migrations.
  • More baby birds survive. The simple act of putting out a bird feeder and keeping it clean and full can greatly improve the chances that birds in your area and their chicks will thrive.
  • It helps with pest control; birds eat much more than seed, suet, and nectar, and feeding birds in your backyard also invites them to feast on the insects, worms, snails, and spiders in your landscape. This can provide ideal organic pest control with no need for toxic insecticides or chemicals.
  • Some birds assist with plant pollination.

In addition to these environmental benefits, we can benefit ourselves by feeding the birds.

  • A bird feeder gives you the opportunity to observe and learn about nature. We can learn to identify bird species and understand our environment – and the need to care for it. Bird feeding is a wonderful introduction for young people to nature and its wider wonders. With the right food and feeders, you can enjoy their company and learn all year round.
  • You can destress! One of the most relaxing sounds you can experience is the joyful song of wild birds in the trees all around your garden or locality. It is a soothing source of natural beauty and entertainment just outside your window and provides an escape. Experiencing nature in this way is proven to be beneficial for our mental health and wellbeing.
  • Bird feeding can lead to bird watching and ecology as a hobby and passion. It can help alongside other activities such as photography, videography, reading, meditating, exercising, and educating your children.
Garden bird amongst leaves

Tips from RSPB

Here are a few quick words of advice. However, the best thing to do is to find out about the species in your own area, and what they might need and when. Take the opportunity to learn about your local environment too.

  • If you supply a variety of food you are more likely attract many species.
  • Household scraps such as pastry, cooked rice and breadcrumbs are enjoyed by many garden birds.
  • Fruit, especially bruised apples and pears, are popular with thrushes and blackbirds.
  • When buying bird food, use a good mix of peanuts, seeds and live food such as mealworms.
  • Good ready-made mixes should contain sunflower seeds, broken peanuts, flaked maize and smaller seeds such as millet.
  • When it is cold put out food and water on a regular basis, morning and afternoon.
  • Bird cake and food bars are very good because of their high-fat content.
  • You can also feed kitchen scraps, such as fat and suet, mild grated cheese, cooked potatoes, pastry and dried fruit.
  • Don’t use salted peanuts; most garden birds cannot process salt and will die if they have too much.
  • Avoid offering garden birds other foods that contain salt, including salty bacon, chips and crisps.
  • Only put out peanuts in metal mesh feeders to ensure birds cannot take whole nuts, which can choke young birds.
  • Don’t use nylon mesh bags, as these can trap birds’ feet.
  • Mealworms are full of nutrition and are excellent food for insect-eating birds such as robins, blue tits, wrens and pied wagtails.
  • Bird tables should be placed where the birds are safe and will be able to feed undisturbed.
  • Avoid putting them near fences or dense hedges, where cats can easily get to them.
  • If there is a small bush nearby, birds can use this as a look-out point to make sure it is safe.
  • Make sure your feeding area is visible from a window so you can enjoy watching the birds as they feed!
  • Ideally, leave a wooden bird table untreated if you can. However, we do know it will last longer if you treat it, in which case use only water-based non-toxic preservatives.
  • It is good to provide a regular supply of clean water for birds to drink and bathe in.
  • Water is particularly important during the winter when natural supplies may be frozen, and (of course!) in hot dry weather.
  • Clean water containers regularly to prevent disease.
  • Late summer is a good time to clean feeders and bird tables, ready for the birds’ return.
  • A 10% disinfectant solution is suitable; rinse any feeders well before using them again.
  • Cleaning regularly helps to reduce the spread of disease amongst the birds visiting your feeding station.
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