Bird Feeding Information
Providing food attracts birds and gives many people a lot of pleasure, but does it really have any conservation value? This Isa a difficult question to answer, not least because it is difficult to measure what effect feeding has on the numbers of very small birds. However, it is quite reasonable to assume that it is very beneficial to some species, at least in periods of prolonged severe weather and, especially, prolonged snow cover. Birds will very quickly find regular and reliable sources of food and will return to them again and again; they may come to rely on them, so it is very important, in hard weather at least, to continue a feeding program once you have started it.
It is not necessary to feed birds all through the year. Natural food supplies should be readily available from spring to autumn and, importantly, are the resources to which birds turn when feeding their young. Feeding in the garden is, therefore, unnecessary (and indeed not recommended) outside the winter months. Water, on the other hand, can be made available all year round and is especially important during very cold weather.
Many people resent the bullying, over-confident attitudes of starlings, or the abundance of house sparrows and feral pigeons. Grey squirrels are fun to watch, but even a feeder well out of jumping range of a tree or wall may prove Accessible to them. An inverted biscuit tin two-thirds of the way up the post of a bird table, with a plastic drainpipe placed like a sleeve over the post below it, is an effective and simple way of keeping grey squirrels at bay. Rats, incidentally, also carry a strong risk of introducing salmonellosis, which can cause heavy and distressing mortality among garden birds. Ideally, feeding sites should be moved once or twice during the winter and the feeders thoroughly cleaned inspiring.
The simplest way to feed a bird is to scatter bread and other scraps on the ground, on a windowsill, or on a flat roof. This invariably attracts hordes of house sparrows and starlings but it is also very useful in attracting some species which hardly ever visit bird tables or other feeders. Its big disadvantage is that it may also attract rats and mice. It is generally better to concentrate feeding at two or three sites, using a bird tableland or other feeding devices. This makes general hygiene easier, enables you to provide food close to the cover which is important to some species, and means better protection from marauding cats and provides you with a very better chance of actually watching your guests. Ground feeders can be provided with a small amount of food below bird tables and will, of course, be useful for frequent spillages. Many people believe that white bread is bad for birds this is not so, but it can be hard and therefore very difficult for birds to break up and swallow, so it should be soaked in water first.
Suet can be provided in small pieces, as a block which tits and nuthatches can chip away at (it is best to secure it by wire or hang it from a convenient branch), or rammed into a hanging container. Many people push bits into cracks in trees for tits and woodpeckers or even create special feeding stations for them on old tree stumps. Suet, lard, or dripping also forms the basis of the popular ‘bird cake’: it is melted down and poured over a mixture of seeds, dried fruit, nuts, cake crumbs, cheese, and virtually anything else you care to add. When hardened, this can be placed on a bird table, hung up in a container (in which it can be left to set beforehand,) or crammed into a hole in a stupor tree trunk. The proportions of the bird cake are roughly 227g (1/2 lb) of fat to 453g (1 lb) of the mixture.
Bones too attract tits, nuthatches, and woodpeckers, as well as starlings, either for the fat and meat left clinging totem or for the marrow inside. They are best-hung upland care should be taken with broken bones (especially poultry bones) left on the ground if you have a dog or act. At least some should be minced up for small insectivorous birds like wrens and dunnocks. Minced meat has also been recorded as being eaten by birds like snipe and water rail in hard weather. Robins and tits will enjoy it at any time.
Incidentally, commercially available cat and dogwood can also be put out for many small birds. Bacon rind, cut into small pieces, cooked or uncooked, is another firm favorite. Many people ask whether the salt content of bacon (and indeed other foods) is harmful to birds, but there is no evidence to suggest that the amounts present have any ill effects. Many of these meaty foods will help small insectivorous birds, which generally have the hardest time finding enough to eat in severe weather, along as what you provide is broken down into very small fragments. The so-called ‘ants’ eggs (really pupae and larvae) which you can buy very cheaply in pet shops are also very helpful to these species. If you can obtain them, mealworms (flour beetle larvae) are also very useful. Robins are said to sell their souls for them they will at least come rapidly and may take them from your hand. Nuts, of course, are very popular. Almost any kind will do, but peanuts are the best (not, however, the excessively salted variety available in pubs, etc), either strung up in their shells, placed in a nut basket, or suspended in the mesh bags in which they now come repacked, or simply scattered on the bird table.
Peanuts can be bought in bulk from many pet shops and commercial bird food suppliers; they sell like proverbial hotcakes, so lay in a good supply. Tits, nuthatches, and even great spotted woodpeckers will delight you with their antics where nuts are hung up for them. They will even come right up against windows. Greenfinches, too, will soon find them and, if you are in an area where they occur in winter, swill siskins. Unfortunately, house sparrows are also very fond of nuts and will very quickly learn how to get at them. Tits and skins can cope with this, but sparrows find it rather difficult. Half a coconut can be suspended for fits and nuthatches, and once emptied; the shell makes a useful bird cake container. The desiccated coconut should not be put out as it may swell up inside the bird.
Many kinds of mixed, small vegetables and dried peas, etc are useful additions to the menu dried fruits and sultanas, are also firm favorites with many species. Whole or half apples are much appreciated by blackbirds and all the other thrushes, including winter-visiting fieldfares and red wings. Leave new windfalls and any damaged apples for the birds, and if you can, set aside a small proportion of your crop against the possibility of hard weather later on. Oats, oatmeal, maize flakes, puppy meal, and all kinds of ‘bird seed’ canals be put out in a seed hopper is recommended to avoid too much spillage.
Most commercial wild bird foods contain a very high proportion of seeds among their many ingredients, and can be recommended they sometimes lead to strange things growing in the garden in spring too! Sunflower seeds are perhaps the most popular seeds of all, much loved by green finches, in particular, they are usually included in wild bird mixtures but can be bought separately.
One of the great pleasures of feeding birds is that there is almost no limit to the menu: follow the guidelines given here, but experiment with your own ideas too.