Birds - Winter Feeding Regimes


There are many people who are disappointed when birds fail to visit their beautifully designed bird-table and see their neighbours bird-table seemingly befeathered by birds. Why should this be?

'Tiz 'ow you feeds 'em m'dears!

Many garden centres sell large ecomony bags of hard peanuts and dry corn with a little sunflower seed mixed in and call it 'Wild Bird Food'. Rather a waste of money generally!

In truth it is almost inedible by most of our garden favourites. Hawfinches may crack them open. They can even crack open cherry stones! Pigeons will swallow whatever will fit into their beaks - but smaller birds? Well...
Starlings will eat almost anything, as will doves and pigeons. But our poor friends the robins, dunnocks, blackbirds and thrushes cannot eat such foods! They are really meat eaters.

Few people realise that there are hard-beaked birds and soft-beaked birds. One lot usually can cope with seeds and the others can't.
Sparrows will eat corn and millet, but finches prefer seeds that can be easily split open and winkled out. They adore sunflower seeds - in my garden especially the black seeded variety. The striped variety will be eaten more slowly and be avoided altogether if the black variety is available.

For soft billed birds I usually drop an extra bag of sultanas and currents into the shopping trolley as we go around the supermarket and almost always grab a carton of ®Atora suet granules. I find that the ®Atora brand does not stick together in warm periods, and is easily mixed with the other ingredients when I make up the food mixes. They are very slightly dearer but are worth it in the long run.

Whilst at the garden centre go to the pets area, (they usually have one), and buy a large packet of ®'Bogena Mynah Food' or ®'Bogena Universal Food'®. It is around 4.00 per kilo. This is ideal food for blackbirds and such and all other birds will eat it too. It is never wasted.
Also buy some crushed oats or similar food. I will add a list of foods suitable for mixing at the end of this piece and you can make your own. Even small soft-bills will take the occasional morsel if it will fit into their mouths without breaking into small pieces.

I know that it is best to give natural foods but crumbed bread and dried up pastry can serve as a tasty food for the most fussy eater - hard or soft billed - so long as it is in manageable sizes.
Starlings will manage to make very large pieces break down in seconds but some birds just do not have the skills. I find that a pied wagtail follows closely on the heels of the starlings as he eats such tiny morsels that most other birds just ignore.

Have a supply of water nearby if you can, and site the table away from areas where cats can lurk and hide. Don't expect to keep a cat and to see a large variety of birds as well.

Starlings and greenfinches will usually visit the table but smaller birds such as chaffinches, dunnocks, robins are really ground feeders and are at extreme risk if there is cat cover around and will stay away.

Another point about feeding birds is that they don't always feed at the table. Some only feed on the ground. Others prefer to peck fat out of cracks in wood. Food dropped into shortish grass is used up - especially by the long-beaked starlings.

One way of catering for blue tits etc. is to spread or smear some soft suet under arris rails on fences and into knotholes and on the branches of strong bushes or trees. The birds will eventually find the source and begin to visit regularly.

I hope these few pointers will help you to get better use from your bird table and that your pleasure is increased. I feed almost all year and so the birds expect it. I am careful what I feed during the season that young birds are in the nests.
Lazy parents can be inclined to carry off food from the table - and that is not good for small fledgelings or young - they can choke!

I do get some special seed foods at the end of March that build the birds up to produce eggs etc. It is useful to add a few vitamin drops into the food too.

One additional point about feeding birds and only getting the ubiquitious starlings - just remember that you are relieving the pressure on someone elses bird table and the smaller birds are probably feeding there. After all its supposed to be about caring for birds and not about having semi-wild exotic feathered pets coming to call.

Good foods to mix:-
  • Black sunflower seed.
  • Peanuts - whole & granules.
  • Hemp.
  • Pinhead Oatmeal.
  • Porridge Oats.
  • Budgerigar Tonic seed
  • Sultanas.
  • Suet (Atora shredded) & blocks.
  • Wild bird seed mixture.
  • Pigeon Mix - for pigeons of course - if you've got some!
  • Tinned Sweetcorn - add directly to table not mix!
  • Fresh fruit - broken into bits - not cut! Add directly to table.
  • Bread crumbs - toasted preferred.


Best of all is to try to think like a bird. You'll be surprised how helpful this apparently 'silly' technique can be. Try it!


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