Survival of the fattest

Feeding garden birds

source: Mike Clark
Country Smallholding January 2004 p39

Garden birds can be helped to survive by feeding them during winter months, starting in November, as food elsewhere becomes scarce. The birds can come to depend on food you put out, so they need feeding until April, and can benefit from food put out all year.

Birds' needs increase during very harsh weather, so it helps to put food out twice a day, in the morning and early in the afternoon. The quantity needed depends on what the birds eat, and they are being fed too much if excess food accumulates. Some foods, like bread, fat, and peanuts, can harm baby birds, so it's best to avoid them in spring and summer. It is better to feed good quality bird food than scraps, though some home-prepared food is well-received, like unsalted, cooked rice, pastry, cut up fresh and dried fruits, and also fat outside the breeding season.

Some birds like to feed on the ground, while others cling to feeders, and both types of bird will use bird tables, which offer some safety from cats. The table is best placed on open ground, since birds prefer an open site, but near cover for them to escape in case of danger.

Mesh nut feeders are essential containers for peanuts, since many bird species can be killed if they eat whole peanuts. Mesh bags can be dangerous since birds' feet and legs can get caught in them. The feeders should be cleaned regularly, and the food kept fresh, to reduce risks of spreading disease. Birds also benefit from a dish of water that is changed regularly, or access to an unfrozen pond.