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Feeding garden birds can be great fun for nature and bird lovers of all ages. So it is safe for you and the birds, here are a few tips and tricks to get you started with feeding your birds, and enjoy it for years to come.
Feeding your birds all year round is a good idea for many different reasons. In spring, you can help support parenting birds throughout the breeding season with additional food and water, so they can make sure their young chicks are growing. Although summer often provides a range of food sources for our garden birds, dry ground and a lack of water can mean birds do not keep themselves hydrated enough and cannot find the additional delicious fat treats (such as mealworms) they naturally need. In the second half of the year, many migrant birds arrive at bird tables hungry after their long journey and most of our garden birds prepare for the cooler months, by trying to find more fatty nutrients. In late summer, birds also start shedding their feathers and growing new feathers while trying to keep warm during moulting takes up a lot of energy. So providing an energy-rich food source is vital for the birds' health and survival throughout all the seasons. Although food shortages can occur at any time of the year, garden feeding has its greatest benefit during winter and spring when natural food supply is at its lowest. In addition to all the goodness for the birds, bird feeding is a popular activity - over half of adults in the UK feed birds in their garden.
Providing your garden birds with supplementary food will bring them closer, for you to enjoy their behaviour and wonderful colours, and it is a great way to get children engaged with wildlife. Bear in mind though, supplementary feeding can't provide all the natural proteins and vitamins that adult and young birds need. That's why it is important to provide a generally wildlife friendly environment, such as lawns, shrubs and flowerbeds. By providing both natural and supplementary food, your garden will be visited year-round by many different birds!
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.
We put together a handy guide to help you choose which birds like what foods best.
There are a range of different bird seed mixes for feeders, bird tables and ground feeding, to suit species that feed in various ways. The best mixtures contain plenty of oil rich seeds such as sunflower hearts and whole sunflower seeds, and perhaps peanut granules.
Small seeds, such as millet, attract mostly house sparrows, dunnocks, finches, reed buntings and collared doves, while flaked maize is taken readily by blackbirds.
Tits and greenfinches favour sunflower hearts, peanuts and sunflower seeds. Mixes that contain chunks or whole nuts are suitable for winter feeding only, as small and young birds can choke on large pieces.
RSPB Bird food quality As part of our conservation efforts, we have been creating bird food for over 120 years already. With every new bird food we produce, we make sure it has been rigorously tested to our highest quality standards. With only the finest ingredients containing no fillers (which you might find in cheap bird food), our RSPB bird food recipes are specially formulated and tailored for particular birds. Each crop is thoroughly checked and cleaned. To help support our conservation work, the majority of our seeds are Conservation Grade, grown on Fair to Nature farms. You can find out more about our bird food sourced from Fair To Nature farms on our website.
Pinhead oatmeal (coarse cut oats) is excellent for many birds, and naked oats are even higher in oil and energy than ordinary oats. Wheat and barley grains are often included in seed mixtures, but they are really only suitable for pigeons, doves and pheasants, which feed on the ground and rapidly increase in numbers, frequently deterring the smaller species. All round favourite are sunflower seeds. They are an excellent year-round food, in many areas are even more popular than peanuts. The oil content is higher in black than striped ones, so they are much better. Sunflower hearts (the husked kernels) are a popular no-mess food, and the best quality ones are higher in oil (and energy) than peanuts. This food is almost universally accepted and enjoyed by most garden bird species. Nyjer seeds are small and black with a high oil content. They need a special type of seed feeder, and are particular favourites with goldfinches and siskins
Bird food to avoid Avoid seed mixtures that have split peas, beans, dried rice or lentils, as only the large species can eat them dry. Any mixture containing green or pink lumps should also be avoided as these are dog biscuit pieces, which can only be eaten when soaked. Salted or dry roasted peanuts should not be used.
Peanuts are high in fat and are popular with tits, greenfinches, house sparrows, nuthatches, great spotted woodpeckers and siskins. Crushed or grated nuts attract robins, dunnocks and even wrens. Nuthatches and coal tits may hoard peanuts. Peanuts can be high in a natural toxin, which can kill birds, so make sure your peanuts were tested and are good quality to guarantee they are free from aflatoxin. Peanuts have to be grown in tropical conditions, so they are not a natural food for European bird species. For this, they also have to be transported long distances, so while we sell peanuts we do suggest to use much better alternatives such as RSPB Buggy nibbles and Berry nibbles. They don't have the choking hazard of peanuts and, made in the UK, our nibbles don't have to travel as far as peanuts.
Suet balls and other fat-based bird cakes, nibbles and sprinkles are excellent high energy winter food and are popular with many garden birds. Our suet products are specially formulated to make them suitable for year-round feeding. However, if positioned in direct sunlight they may soften or melt in very hot weather. If this happens, try placing them in a shaded spot instead, or waiting until the weather is cooler.
Look out for... If fat balls are sold in nylon mesh bags, always remove the bag before putting the fat ball out - the mesh can trap and injure birds.
Mealworms are relished by robins, blue tits and blackbirds, and may attract other insect-eating birds, such as pied wagtails. They are a natural food and can be used to feed birds throughout the year. Dried mealworms make an excellent substitute for live mealworms, and if desired can be rehydrated by soaking them in warm water for a few minutes. They also have the advantage of being easy to store and less messy to handle, and can be sprinkled direct from the packet. It is very important that any live mealworms fed to birds are fresh. Any dead or discoloured ones must not be used as they can cause problems such as salmonella poisoning.
Want to feed something different? Then take a look at our RSPB wildlife guide to find out about alternatives to bird food.
Hygiene is important! Please make sure you clean your bird feeders and bird baths regularly so there won't be any problems with diseases. Find out how to clean your bird feeders in our Bird Feeder Guide.