When to feed garden birds

Monday 27 November 2017, 11:32 AM

A diddy little coal tit to a lesser seen woodpecker; being able to invite birds into your garden is great. There really are fewer sights more satisfying than seeing a bird nibble away on the peanuts or seed you’ve lovingly provided. So before we look at the “when” of feeding birds, let’s have a little look at the “why.”

Why feed garden birds?

Nature needs our help. Not only on a grand, global scale, but also in our gardens too. There is an abundance of life on our doorstep, and it is in many ways our fault that it’s there. The wholesale destruction of forest areas means that naturally occurring foods are becoming more and more scarce.

When there are extra beaks to feed during breeding season, or when the ice and cold makes naturally occurring foods scarcer still, your role is even more important. Garden birds really do need us to sustain their numbers; it’s amazing to think how much good some seed a few peanuts can do.

But how and what you feed them from season to season can, and should, vary. Traditionally, the feeding of birds has been an activity reserved for the cold winter months. However in recent times that has all begun to change...

Summer garden bird feeding

The creepy crawlies that made up the diet of our favourite garden birds aren’t as plentiful as they once were. So when breeding season comes around, and there’s all those extra beaks to feed, a bit of seed goes a long way.

By providing food in the summer months, we are ridding the adult birds of the horrific choice of choosing between themselves and their young. If the parents are well fed, they can leave what naturally occurring food is around to the little ones. But what food to give?

To limit the risk of small birds choking on chunky food, keep it seed based with a mix of fat balls and even live food. Where possible, vary the food you are giving in order to help as many species of birds as possible, and also to provide a full spectrum of nutrients too. Then, when the leaves on the trees start to turn golden, cut back slightly. Autumn is the best time of year for naturally occurring foods, so let the birds have a chomp on those caterpillars garden grubs if you can!

Winter garden bird feeding

Food supplies are low, the cold has gripped the land and your garden looks a little bit dystopian. It’s the winter where birds need our help the most, not because of the cold directly, but because of the lack of food that this can cause. As birds migrate from forests into more urban areas, in a bid to get a meal, it is up to us to help them.

Lots of fat, lots of energy, and lots of it! That’s essentially how you should approach garden bird feeding in the winter months. Natural foods are very scarce, meaning smaller birds such as finches visit in even greater numbers, while you may even see winter thrushes from time to time too. All of them visiting your garden to get the food they so desperately need. Mornings and late afternoons are the most important parts of the day, so have a nice selection of nuts, seeds and fat in order to help them recover and prepare for the long cold nights.

Garden birds need water in the winter too, so when it gets really cold, do what you can to stop your bird bath turning into an ice rink. Water fountains are an easy solution, as the moving water is less likely to freeze. Whether ice or snow, keep checking on your water, your bird food and the birds themselves; it’s at this time of year they depend on you most.

Happy tip

You’ve lit the fire, you’ve got four jumpers on and you can hardly feel your toes. Yes it’s cold, but withdrawing a supply of bird food can be fatal in bad weather, so always keep a small supply of “backup” bird food close to hand. A small amount of bird food on a harsh winter’s day is better than none at all.

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