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Feeding our feathered friends - how to care for the birds in your garden


Great tits are a bold visitor to bird tables across the UK  


In the era of pandemic lockdowns and the continued success of the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, more people than ever are getting into the spirit of feeding and attracting birds to their gardens. This becomes particularly crucial during winter when birds require high-energy, high-fat foods and access to water, especially when natural resources are scarce due to freezing conditions. So, what should you be providing?


Top seeds

Among the top seed choices for birds, black sunflower seeds stand out. They're rich in protein and unsaturated fats, with higher oil content compared to stripped ones. You can find them as complete sunflower hearts in Eastern European grocery shops or loose in bags at general stores or your local garden centre. Crushed seeds from specialised retailers are excellent for winter, as they save birds the energy of removing husks. Another fun option is to grow sunflowers in your garden – they're easy to grow, and children love watching them sprout and measuring their growth.


Going nuts

Peanuts come next as a well-known bird food, being rich in fat and protein. However, it's crucial to source fresh, unsalted, and non-dry roasted peanuts meant for human consumption, as some may contain harmful aflatoxins. Whole peanuts are favorites among tits, greenfinches, house sparrows, nuthatches, siskins, and woodpeckers. Crushed peanuts attract robins and hedge sparrows, and using a hand blender can make this task easier.


Work wonders

Fat balls are another popular bird food, providing protein and carbohydrates. These can be bought in ball or bar form, or you can make them at home by combining melted suet or lard with a mixture of seeds, nuts, dried fruits, oatmeal, and grated cheese. A simple ratio of two-thirds dried ingredients to one-third melted fat works wonders. Once set, you can hang them up or place them on a bird table.


A seed-loving, smart male bullfinch will bring bright colour to your garden 


Water supply

Ensuring a supply of water is equally vital during winter, especially when feeding birds dry foods and when other water sources are frozen. A bird bath, shallow dish, or an old frying pan filled with water and elevated off the ground with a small plastic ball floating on top can provide the much-needed water.


(Bird-)friendly advice

Other bird-friendly foods include nyjer seeds, dried insect mixes with calcium worms and mealworms, as well as fruits like apples, pears, and plums. Leftovers from your kitchen, such as breadcrumbs, grated cheese, cooked and uncooked rice, and uncooked porridge oats, also make welcome additions to a bird's menu.

Having berry-bearing shrubs and fruit trees in your garden allows you to grow your own bird food, with fruits stored in autumn and laid out during inclement weather.

With the threat of Avian flu affecting birdlife, it's essential to exercise caution when feeding birds. Regularly cleaning feeders and water containers, placing them in a mild wildlife-friendly disinfectant, and relocating them can help prevent disease transmission.


Making a difference

Feeding birds in your garden requires effort, commitment, and some cost, but it makes a significant difference to the wintering bird populations. As I sat down to write this, sipping tea in my kitchen, I witnessed a lively gathering of blue, coal, and great tits around the feeders, with collared doves, wood pigeons, blackbirds, robins, and starlings joining in. It's a rewarding experience that contributes to the well-being of our feathered friends.