Bird feeders buying guide
Feeding your wild garden birds is great fun for all the family. We put together this handy feeder guide to help you choose the right feeder for your bird food and birds.
Choosing the right feeder
Every bird is different, not only in size but also in their preferences for food and feeder. Some birds prefer ground feeders, while others forage predominantly in the trees. Some are happy to come out to the open to feed, while others prefer to stay in or close to cover.
TIP: By providing a variety of feeding sites, you can attract a wider range of birds into your garden.
There are many different styles and designs of feeders available. Depending on what type of birds you would like to feed in your garden, you can choose between a range of feeders.
However, the most important factor to consider is bird safety. Is the feeder safe for birds to use? With no points where birds’ feet could get trapped? What bird food do you need for your bird feeder? And, if you have squirrels or cats in your garden, what is the best feeder to keep your bird food and birds safe? All RSPB bird feeders are designed with bird safety in mind. Read on to learn more about the different options available.
You want to make sure every bird in your garden - from small birds like robins and blue tits to larger birds like woodpeckers and black birds - gets the right kind of energy-rich bird food they need.
A seed feeder can attract many different species to your garden, including sparrows, tits, finches and siskins.
Available with plastic or metal fittings, they come in a wide variety of sizes and styles and are suitable for sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts or any free-flowing feeder seed mix.
TIP: Metal fittings usually last longer than plastic and they are more resistant to squirrel damage. Look for RSPB Ultimate feeders.
For nyjer seed you need a specially designed feeder as this seed is smaller than other bird food. These special feeders have very small holes or slits instead of the standard feeding ports, which helps prevent too much seed from being wasted.
For even less waste you can add a seed tray to your seed feeders. It catches dropped seed and provides extra perching space. Be aware though, that if you wish to attract smaller birds, seed trays are an inviting place for larger birds.
Providing food at ground level benefits many birds, including blackbirds, thrushes, wrens and robins.
Simply sprinkle bird food on the lawn or patio, or use a ground feeding table. Make sure you position it well away from cover such as shrubs or trees to avoid lurking cats.
A ground feeder protector cage is a good idea if you want to protect feeding birds from predators. It can also help to prevent larger birds, such as pigeons eating all the food before the smaller birds get a look-in.
- Spacing the food out reduces competition between birds and more of them can feed at any one time.
- Change the area where you scatter the food every few days, and never put out more than is eaten the same day, to avoid attracting vermin.
- Sprinkle grated peanuts, suet nibbles and sprinkles or grated cheese in the borders to encourage shyer species.
- Never put peanuts or suet balls out in nylon mesh bags. These can trap birds' feet and cause injuries.
- Most feeders can be enclosed in a feeder guardian, which will help to protect the birds from predators while feeding, and may help deter larger birds and squirrels from accessing the food.
Nut & nibble feeders
Ideal for suet nibbles and peanuts, nut and nibble feeders are often popular with tits, woodpeckers, nuthatches and other species that cling.
The only safe method of offering peanuts to wild birds are feeders made from steel mesh. The mesh size needs to be large enough to prevent beak damage and small enough to prevent large pieces of nut from being removed – about 6 mm is a good compromise.
Generally these feeders are made from a wide metal mesh, which holds the suet and provides birds with something to cling to while feeding.
Suet feeders are particularly popular with members of the tit family and starlings.
Grey squirrels can be a real problem when feeding your garden birds. They can damage your feeders by chewing through plastic rapidly, rendering them useless.
Squirrels also have a large appetite, and will make short work of the bird food you put out, if they can get to it. A guardian around your feeder or placed over your ground feeding table can help to deter squirrels (however, in order to make the food accessible to birds, it’s not possible to make anything fully squirrel ‘proof’). Small or juvenile squirrels are able to squeeze through even quite narrow gaps.
Placing your feeders at least 2 metres away from any jumping-off point, such as a tree, shrub or fence will help to keep them at a distance, but they can jump up from the ground, or down from above.
Placing squirrel cones above and/or below your feeders can help stop the squirrels reaching them. Alternatively you can enclose the post of your bird table or feeder pole in smooth plastic pipe and so make it more difficult for squirrels to climb.
Another kind of problematic visitors to your garden are cats. Unlike birds of prey, domestic cats are not natural predators anymore. They do not need to hunt to survive, and their habit of catching birds, particularly during the breeding season, can be a problem for all types of birds.
There are many deterrents on the market, that can be used with varying degrees of success, to create a cat-free zone in your garden. We have tested and approved the Catwatch deterrent. When the sensor inside detects movement it emits a high-pitched sound disliked by most cats (but inaudible to humans). The frequency emitted is unique to cats hearing range, so the Catwatch won't bother other garden wildlife, such as hedgehogs.
You can help protect birds from cats while feeding by using guardians on your feeders and ground feeding area and taking steps to prevent cats from climbing trees. This gives the birds a safe haven, where they can feed and perch out of immediate danger. Similar to squirrels, make sure you place your feeders away from dense cover and places where cats can lie in wait. Keeping a clear area around your feeders should help the birds stay out of pouncing distance.
Hygiene is important!
Whatever you feed birds with, good hygiene around feeders and bird baths is important all year round, but particularly so during the summer months. The warm weather can make bird food go off more quickly, and can provide ideal conditions for harmful bacteria to proliferate.
Salmonella is present at a low level in wild bird populations, and poor hygiene at feeding stations can fuel a local outbreak. Greenfinches and house sparrows are most susceptible to this infection, which is transmitted by droppings from an infected bird.
It’s important to clean feeders regularly, and to always exercise sensible hygienic care: clean the feeders outdoors, keep separate brushes for the purpose, wear gloves and wash hands after finishing the job.