Everything You Need To Know About Bird Feeding

The Ultimate Guide to Bird Feeding

Bird feeding is one of those things that people think is simple – “we’ll chuck a few slices of bread outside; that will do the trick”. No. No it won’t. Whilst this is the approach most people take, you could in fact be putting more birds at risk than you would by not feeding them especially if you’ve got a super accurate lawnmower that cuts grass very fine birds will be far too exposed, so let’s take a look at some of the essentials you should know if you really want to help your feathered garden friends out. Attracting birds is a crucial part of any garden but we can’t just lay out food anywhere, so here’s one good bird feeder method, creative gardening is important when looking to bring wildlife in. 

When surveyed, more than 95% of the people that participated said that watching and/or listening to birds made them happier and made their garden a far nicer place to be, good for both mind and body. This information makes it fairly safe to say that we are a bird loving nation – despite the fact we don’t practice it as a hobby as much as our neighbours across the pond!

Nonetheless, things can change, and hopefully reading this essentials guide should put you on the right track to helping those garden visitors, and do check out my rearing chicken article too, as well as making us a far more recognised nation when it comes to our feathered friends.

We should admit now, that the title might be slightly misleading – explaining everything you need to know about bird feeding would take you days to read through (assuming we could piece it all together). Instead, we’re condensing it into the fundamental points which will help you feed birds safely and effectively without boring you too much.

Types of Feeding Station

The type of feeding station you have makes up just one factor that dictates how safe your birds are when they come to feed. Simply putting some breadcrumbs on the ground opens them up to being attacked by pretty much every kind of predator – this is why bird organisations advise against it. Get clever with your landscaping, you should be able to feed birds without endangering them, a certain amount of creative gardening and you can enjoy our feathered friends.

There are a variety of feeders available, varying in shape, size, looks and material in order to attract a bigger range of birds and encourage bird safety. We’ll quickly outline the types below:

  • Seed feeders: These are without doubt one of the most popular type of bird feeding stations on the market simply due to the amount of food you can fill them with; it can also be extremely varied in order to create a richer diet for the birds. These will really help attract wildlife in times of drought too. Make sure you have the right feeder to suit the type of seed you want to store as some are only compatible with specific styles & models!
  • Peanut feeders: Again, these vary in shape and design just like the seed feeders, but offer the ability of bigger food to be stored. However, the design will also stop the birds from swallowing the food whole, as this can lead to them choking; instead they have to peck for their food. This also has the side effect of birds staying in your garden for a longer time – it’s a win-win and would make a great gardening Mother’s Day gift as we wrote about.
  • Suet feeders: This style of feeder has a very similar look to a cage as they’re usually constructed from a mesh of wires; that said, they are one of the most efficient feeders out there. The design of these feeders will allow you to fill it with suet blocks or fat balls. And if you’ve opted for the block holder; you can also put scraps, bread or toast in there as a treat!
  • Feeding trays: Possibly considered one of the most alternative types of bird feeding; this consists of a tray (raised from the ground) which is often made from either wood or a type of metal and finished with a thin wire meshing on the base. This gives you the opportunity to provide food to birds that would be almost impossible to serve in a conventional type of feeder. It also offers easy clean-up at night for any uneaten food, and due to the design; rain will not make the tray overflow due to the fine meshing.

All of these feeders can usually be bought with optional protective qualities such as squirrel resistant caging or meshing. This will make it extremely hard for squirrels to get into and attack the birds; however, these are far more efficient on hanging feeders than they are on ground feeders. Squirrel protection also has the added bonus of making it hard for larger birds to get at the food, which enables the smaller, more vulnerable birds, to feed without worry. Don’t be under the illusion that anything is fully ‘squirrel proof’; if they were; chances are the small birds wouldn’t be able to get in there to feed either.

Make sure you read the ‘general tips’ at the bottom of this article in order to see where these feeders should be positioned to prevent predators snacking on your garden friends.

Feeding & Different Types of Food

Birds are those creatures that are absolutely glorious to watch and it almost breaks your heart to hear that many die in winter due to a lack of food. Now, it will come as a surprise to most, but the majority of garden birds actually rely on us [humans] to provide for them, especially throughout the winter months. Food is always plentiful in summer when we are outside eating and having barbecues.

When cold weather sets in, birds have a hard time sourcing food and they expend far more energy searching for it. This puts them into a never-ending cycle of struggle in which they’re looking for food in order to get the energy they need to find more food, not a situation you’d want to be in, right? It’s one of the things we should be preparing for when it snows.

Here’s a variety of foods that birds adore and more importantly need in order to feed themselves and their babies throughout the year:

  • Seeds: Arguably one of the most popular foods simply due to the variety on offer and the benefits it provides to the birds. Seeds are ideal feeder foods as there is a lot of meat and very little shell which makes it easier for the birds to get at. As well as this, they are also considerably high in fat content which is a bonus. The most common are sunflower seeds, Niger seeds and thistle seeds; all of which attract a wide variety of birds. Remember to keep some for yourself though, it’s always good to have free planting next year!
  • Mealworms: Whilst gross to most of us, mealworms can form a staple in a bird’s diet by providing them with much needed protein. They’re also the perfect food for parents to take to their little ones when they’re out searching for meals. If you’re purchasing dried mealworms, give them a quick soak before putting them out.
  • Suet: Most commonly used as a term for beef fat; this is safe to be fed to birds and other animals. It’s an easily digestible source of high-energy fats that are extremely useful during the winter months. Other foods such as seeds, peanuts and even fruits can be added to a suet block to vary the food and nutrient profile on offer.
  • Peanuts: These are a great source of food, providing both protein and fat all in one – however, they can also be dangerous. First off, buying from a reputable supplier is a must; second of all, do not put out roasted or salted nuts as this can lead to death if over ingested. Large nuts can present a choking risk to smaller birds (or those feeding their young), to avoid this, crush them up before putting them out.
  • Fruit: Just like us, birds love a fruity treat occasionally and fruits are a great source of energy due to water content and sugar. Rather than leaving whole fruits outside, cut or slice them up (at the very least halve them) and leave them on the bird table for garden visitors to enjoy. If you have any fruit trees in your garden, try and pick up any fruit that drops and put those on tables out of the way of predators, doing this will also stop birds going to the floor for the food!
  • Leftovers: Rather than chucking food you don’t want away, consider giving it the birds outside. A variety of common foods such as cheese, rice and even cereal can be left out for birds without any problem at all. Biscuits, dried fruits and other snacks are also fantastic; just make sure they’re small enough and moist. Also, avoid putting out fats from cooked meat and mouldy or out of date / spoiled food as this isn’t healthy for the birds.

There are of course other foods that birds can benefit from and enjoy, however this is just a run-down of some of the most easily available foods which can form a solid diet for a wide variety of birds.

General Tips

Here you can find a lot of simple tips that will keep birds safe and healthy – make sure you read this thoroughly otherwise you could end up doing more harm than good to your little flying buddies.

  • A bird bath is nearly as important as a feeder; as it provides them with a safe drinking source, a place to add moisture to dry food and even have a bath.
  • Make sure you clean bird feeders and baths often as food can quickly go mouldy and remnants of past meals can stay behind and clog them up as well as cause infections if ingested.
  • Place feeders and baths in safe positions. Do not place them close to fences(here’s an article on fence replacement incase you’re thinking of it) or too near to the ground as this can let cats and squirrels attack them whilst they are feeding. Try and put them high up in open space so birds have a higher chance of spotting predators in the surroundings.
  • As previously mentioned, if you’re going to offer dry food to birds, give it a quick soak in some water for 5 minutes prior to putting out. This makes dry food easier to chew and eat, whilst also providing a much needed source of moisture (especially if water sources are frozen over.
  • Feeding birds milk is a big no-no. Whilst it is a good source of protein and fat for us, birds can’t digest it properly.
  • If you see food on the floor, pick it up and place it in or on the appropriate feeder as this will discourage birds from feeding on the floor where they’re most vulnerable to other animals.
  • If you have a cat, put a bell around its neck as this will alert the birds to its presence and avoid any unnecessary birdie deaths. If other cats (that you don’t own) continue to come into your garden, give them a friendly shoo with loud noises or a bit of water… They won’t come back in a hurry!

Do nothing at all

This might seem like a slap in the face of everything we’ve just said, but hear us out for a minute. Chances are, your garden is a prime source of food for birds in general without you having to do anything at all, especially in summer.

Rather than treating your plants with insecticides, weed-killers and other harmful sprays and treatments, let the birds do the hard-work and reap the rewards. Also, using fewer chemicals will actually promote the health of birds as they won’t be subject to eating things that have come into contact with them. If you do have to use any kind of sprays or insecticides, read the label carefully first before applying and ensure it won’t do any damage to birds or other wildlife.

Hold off on garden maintenance where possible, I’m not saying let it get overgrown though! You might be inclined to trim the hedge or a few bushes, but for all you know, a little family of birds might have nested there – how would you like it if someone just cut away a few bedrooms from your house? Put off trimming and pruning until the autumn months(preferably November, there’s plenty to do then) if you can, as most birds will have moved on by then in preparation for winter. But if you do have to drastically hack away at some shrubbery, make sure it’s nest-free before you get the garden tools out.

That just about concludes our guide and talk on the essentials of bird feeding. If you think there are any key points which we’ve missed out, please let us know by dropping a comment below and we’ll add them into the article where appropriate!

A Short Guide to British Snakes

When you think of snakes you probably picture an exotic jungle somewhere on the other side of the world, fierce creatures that eat all manner of wildlife, or you picture the dry barren desert of the Australian outbreak where snakebites can be a quick way to end your life. What you don’t tend to picture is a back garden somewhere in the English countryside, where a snake might be slithering around your plant pots and troughs hunting insets or harmlessly in your pond feeding on the insects around those pond plants. But British snakes do exist, although you may never be lucky enough – or unlucky, depending on your feelings about snakes – to view one in your life.

The problem for the avid British snake hunter is that snakes tend to be very shy, and only tend to attack when they feel threatened. They’ll be hiding around your compost bin or perhaps your gardens a little overgrown? They like a mess not a neat and tidy garden. This is due to British snake numbers being nowhere near as high as the snakes you’ll find in other more exotic locations than a patch of English countryside near a bypass. There are three different types of British snake, but you’ll be hard pressed to come across one and they’re so rare that they’re a protected species under UK law (the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981), with it being an offence to disturb them in some cases, so certainly do not put them in the same bracket as pests! In fact saying that, they are the perfect solution to natural rodent control. They will happily gobble up all those nasty critters for you.

None of the three types of snakes are particularly dangerous, although The Adder is venomous (further details below), but the recommendation is to avoid touching them(obviously). It’s likely, although rare, that the snake could be an exotic pet snake that has somehow escaped its owner, so you can never be too sure.

The Grass Snake

The largest of the three, the grass snake can reach up to 150cm but will usually be measured at about 75cm). Identifying marks are a shade of olive-green, often with a yellow and black collar behind its head and black markings down the side of its slim body.

The Grass Snake
The Grass Snake

Grass snakes are found in southern areas of Britain and can be spotted around water (ponds, lakes and slow running rivers) due to its diet of frogs and toads. They will also act as your perfect slug control gobbling them (and snails) if you’re lucky enough to get one in your garden. That’s ultra handy since the EU say coffee is illegal as a pest control measure for slugs! It will hibernate from October to March or April, so if you don’t want to catch a glimpse of one your best bet is during the summer. Like many snakes though they’re pretty shy, and will slither away if they feel the vibrations of something approaching – especially a heavy footed human being! However, if you do happen to come in contact with one they have no venom so pose no real threat to humans.

They can also be found within gardens around compost heaps, especially if a pond is nearby. Here they will hibernate and lay between 10 and 40 eggs in the spring. The removal of these areas of the garden, plus the continuing clearance of woodland and wild grassy areas, are unfortunately contributing to the drastic decline of the grass snake numbers; so count yourself lucky if you do spot one and leave them well alone, don’t move them, not even with gloves! We need to take better care of wildlife in our garden, drought or otherwise.

The Adder

The Adder grows up to around 65cm long, and can be identified by a dark zig-zag marking along the back and a dark ‘V’ on the head. Males also have a light grey background colour, with females having a brown background colour. They are the only venomous snake in the UK, although they have only killed 10 people within the last 100 years and only those that are susceptible to anaphylactic shock are in the most danger. I would say this is something you can rule out when considering the safety of your garden for a toddler. You would have to be unbelievably unlucky for this to become an issue. They will very rarely attack anyway, but to be safe stay well away if you spot an Adder, do not handle with any amount of safety clothing, you should call a professional. This isn’t something that’ll go away with a standard first aid kit either.

The Adder
The Adder

They can be found throughout the UK as they’re pretty good at surviving harsh conditions. Much like Grass Snakes though they will hibernate between October and spring. They can be found around moors and grassland, and since the ground is more open here you’re more likely to spot an Adder slithering about. Again, try to avoid them if you do spot one as you don’t want a nasty bite!

Adders will eat small mammals such as mice and voles; but they’ll also chomp on eggs, birds, frogs and other things as part of a fairly varied diet. Thankfully the snake is not currently under threat, although its numbers have declined in certain areas due to human expansion.

The Smooth Snake

Smooth snakes tend to grow up to 70cm long, sporting a grey/brown with dark spots on the back. You will also find a dark butterfly-wing shape around the top of its head. It’s also the rarest British snake, with an estimated population of 3,500 snakes in the Southern Counties of England.

During the months between October and spring the smooth snake will hibernate, popping out to mate and give birth to 5-15 young during the warmer months. They are much like us, we have plenty to do in the garden until November as we are preparing for spring but then we almost hibernate for a few months too, just staring at our garden through the conservatory. They normally feed on lizards and other small reptiles, plus other snakes (including grass snakes). They can also follow the adders diet of small mammals, grabbing their prey and squeezing much like a constrictor would.

The Smooth Snake
The Smooth Snake

Isn’t the slow worm a snake?

There is one other creature you may see slithering about; the slow worm. Although the slow worm may have the appearance of a snake it is, in actual fact, a legless lizard. They used to be common in UK gardens (eating pesky slugs and snails), but their numbers have decreased to the point where they have been granted protected status; making it illegal to intentionally kill, injure or sell slow worms. The fact that they have no defences against domestic cats, who are a common sight around UK gardens, may have contributed towards their decline.

So, British snakes aren’t the most common thing you’ll spot on our beautiful island, but knowing the signs is key to finding them if you wish to have a glimpse or simply identifying them if you happen to find one slinking around your garden.

How to Attract Birds to Your Garden

If perhaps you are a young bloodied male and typed the phrase ‘how to attract birds’ into the search engine, hit search and came across this article then you have made a slight error and maybe you should leave right now. For starters you are not going to attract birds of the type that you desire by calling them birds. Women like to be called ladies and our feathered friends have the honour of being called birds. Have you ever seen a lady with feathers?? Me neither.

On the other hand, women love flowers and flowers are one of the many key points to attracting birds to the garden so maybe this article will work out for you after all.

At this time of year, the sun rises and we are normally awoken and greeted with the sound of singing birds, but can you really imagine a world where that was not the case?  It’s a sad fact that many of our native species of birds are at risk in the UK and it is really up to us to help save them and we can do that by starting at home in our gardens.

Birds can play a massive role in the ecosystem of your garden, and no matter what area you live in, you can easily attract them to the garden by meeting their needs and making them feel at home. So herein lies the question of how do you attract a variety of species to your pride and joy?

Bringing Birds to the Garden

Food – It’s not like birds can pop down the local supermarket to stock up on provisions, so a variety of methods for them to obtain food will make them feel at home. The simplest solution would be to place various bird feeders in strategic positions around the garden and also away from the house.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of food such as fat balls, fruit and nuts as this will attract different species, in the summer drought wildlife will really appreciate anything on offer. Just like us humans, birds have preferences too. They’ll still naturally eat a slug if nothing better is on offer and what a great way to dispose of them too, without the need for any pest control. Turning your soil will loosen the ground and make it easier for plants to grow, it’ll also make it easier for worms and birds love a wriggly worm.

Tip: Bird feeders are easily the most popular way to store food. Not only do they deter squirrels from stealing the food but can also be used all year round. Place these off the ground and away from nesting boxes.

Water – Water is key to the survival of all living species and more often than not birds will have to travel great distances just to hydrate themselves. A fresh source of water will not only encourage them to visit you but they will also be able to have a bath: something that they love to do. Try not to place a bird bath in an open space where they can be a clear target from predators. The house we used to rent off a family member was a haven for birds to visit, the garden was beautiful and even had a pond with a stream and 2 rocky waterfalls. Pond plants are a lovely addition too. Watching the birds take a bath was sometimes a comical thing to see.

Tip: Water is even harder to find in the winter season so keep your bird baths topped up, clean and ice free.

Shelter – From personal observations , normally whilst I’m out with the hedge trimmer or leaf blower, you have may have noticed that birds can be quite nervous creatures and therefore will require various ways in which to take shelter when the need arises: whether that be for evading predators, sheltering from the elements or to simply rest, the correct position of nesting boxes will not only keep them safe but provide them with a home should they wish to take up residence in your garden. It is not surprising for birds to stay in the same area for many generations and increasing their numbers is only a good thing. Keep feeders, bird boxes and any other areas that they may shelter or live clean and easy for them to access when they need to.

Tip:  A bramble bush is a good way to attract the birds due to the berries being an excellent source of food for those winged wonders. They also act as a natural deterrent and a quick escape from predators such as cats who love nothing more than to chase and attack them. It’s highly unlikely that a cat or squirrel will venture to close to the prickly branches but be mindful that toddlers can hurt themselves on bramble.

Flowers and Plants – To construct a garden that is bird friendly does not have to be too strenuous and making use of natural sources such as trees and bushes are an excellent way to help with the diversity of your visitors. Where there is a rich habitat, there is an abundance of fruits, insects and berries and the birds will thrive on this as it provides an excellent source of nutrition. Planting a selection of wildflowers, herbaceous plants and bulbs and generally adding a bit of colour to the area will assist you greatly in captivating birds to the garden. Another method that I use every year (some of you may say its laziness) is allowing a plant, once it has finished flowering to naturally die back as this will provide plenty of seeds for them to eat, any seeds that remain, I take for free and use the next year.

Tip: When creating a natural habitat, don’t be too obsessive with clearing twigs and leaves from the ground as birds will certainly make use of these in the form of making nests in and around your garden.

I have never been much of a bird watcher to be honest, but I do feel very strongly about helping nature live as intended and with the world getting smaller all the time this is just one of the things that we could all do to help the survival of a precious species.

How Gardeners Can Help Wildlife During The Drought

After experiencing two of the driest Winters and Springs on record, many parts of the country are parched which has naturally had an impact on the wildlife as well as on our gardens – but there are some simple steps gardeners can take to help the wildlife survive the drought.

Many gardeners have already found a way to beat the hosepipe ban currently placed on areas in southern and eastern England after many water companies took this decision due to low reservoir levels. It seems that gardeners in Oxfordshire are harvesting rainwater in large water butts to combat the drought and to allow them to carry on tending their gardens while they can’t use hoses to water plants and vegetables. Water butts always have a convenient tap so you can simply fill up a watering can and get a little exercise in the evening whilst it’s nice out. If you have a great deal of watering, some are resolving the issue with the use of a wheelbarrow to take the weight of the water from ‘a to b’.

And now gardeners can step in and come to the aid of wildlife during the drought, by adopting a few measures. As an avid gardener, the birdlife in your garden is probably already important to you and it may be you have adopted practices to help the animals when water is scarce. Whether you’re already taking care of the wildlife in your garden or are keen to start, we have a few ideas for you.

Keep in mind that birds will likely be thirsty at the moment because of the lack of rainfall, and also hungry because of the knock-on effect of parched soil. For example, it may be harder for birds to get hold of worms because the ground is harder when dry – if this is the case, it’s a good idea to lightly dig the soil to aid the birds who can then get to the worms more easily. Lightly digging the soil is a great tip for the aeration process too. In a drought, try water-saving techniques like mulching plants and soil too, using leaf mould or well-rotted manure for example, as this retains the moisture and encourages earthworms and insects to survive, which in turn can become bird food. This is especially effective in plant pots and troughs where there is a self watering tray placed under to catch excess water lost. Hanging baskets are a bit of a no-no in droughts. They simply ask for too much water, as beautiful as they look when they are well watered and happy!

When it comes to feeding the birds, again you want to select the right foods for them during the drought. Leaving out chunks of apple, for example, is good as this fruit has particularly high water content. You can then also make bird feeders available too, with foods high in nutritional value. Be sure to leave fresh water out too, and keep an eye on this source to prevent it getting dirty or warm in the sun. Don’t be too fussy though, the animals can survive well enough drinking moisture from pools and grass.

Another measure is to keep your lawn mower locked in the shed – by letting the grass grow long, insect life is encouraged which can then be a food source for birds. If you have any mud in your garden, keep it wet so that birds like house martins and swallows can use the damp mud for building nests. Normally, birds can find muddy water at the edges of reservoirs and randomly on the ground but when the earth is parched such findings are rare – by adding some water to mud the birds can make new nests as well as fix any that need mending.

As much as possible, water the plants in your garden. It may not be possible to use a hosepipe but you can still fill up a watering can and keep plants healthy throughout the dry weather conditions. Plus, if you do harvest rainwater you’ll have an extra supply of water to splash around your garden – either literally or by topping up bird baths.