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Garden birds and Feed the Birds Day


by Kate Bradbury

We're getting to that point in the year when energy-rich food makes all the difference to small birds surviving winter. There's much less natural food available...


Blue tit, picture thanks to the RSPBThis Saturday (30 October) is RSPB Feed the Birds Day. To celebrate, I gave my feeders a good wash with hot water and disinfectant and bought some expensive bird seed. The birds, still busy eating aphids from the trees in the local park, are none the wiser.

I only get pigeons regularly visiting my garden. Last winter I made efforts to entice smaller, hungrier birds, and managed to attract a desperate pair of wagtails, a blackbird, a robin and a blue tit. They disappeared as soon as the ice thawed.

At the height of breeding season the blue tit returned, though was scared off by a pair of great tits, which visited several times a day. They snacked on peanuts and gathered caterpillars and aphids for their babies. Sadly, they didn't return with their fluffy fledglings and there hasn't been sight nor sound of them since. Nevertheless, there is expensive bird seed in clean, disease-free feeders should they, or their fledglings, want it.

The thing about bird seed is there is such a huge range to choose from and it varies greatly in quality. A lot of cheaper brands use filler grains such as barley, to bulk out the more expensive ingredients. Barley contains a lot of starch, which – like bread – fills up small birds, but doesn't provide them with as much energy as oil-rich food like sunflower seeds and peanuts (starchy food isn't so bad for larger birds). These filler grains are either eaten in desperation or spat out in favour of more oil-rich seeds. They end up in our borders where they're hoovered up by rats or germinate into weeds. Buying better quality food means healthier birds, less mess and fewer rodents.

We're getting to that point in the year when energy-rich food makes all the difference to small birds surviving winter. There's much less natural food available (especially with dwindling numbers of hedgerows), while shorter days and longer nights decrease foraging opportunities. On top of that, small birds use an enormous amount of energy just keeping warm during cold nights. They can't store fat like humans, so spend most of the day feeding just to survive the night. Last winter was particularly hard on our birds - long tailed tits declined by a quarter and numbers of our third smallest bird - the wren - fell by 22 per cent.

The best supplementary sources of fat for small birds are oil-rich seeds like sunflower seed, peanuts (make sure they've been approved by the BSA), millet and hemp, suet-based products such as fat cakes and kitchen scraps such as bacon rind, pastry and grated cheese. These provide birds with instant sources of fat to boost their energy levels and improve their chances of survival.

I'm determined that any freezing, starving birds in my neighbourhood can have a good meal at mine if they want it. I've part-filled my feeders for now to avoid the food going rotten if the birds don't come. I've also got some fat balls on the go, which I dutifully removed from their nets to avoid any broken bird legs. Now, where are the birds?



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Gardeners' World Web User 28/10/2010 at 11:02

My mother cleaned her feeders this morning, and put out fat balls too. We immediately got a whole bunch of blue tits, sparrows and great tits. And there are mistle thrushes in the big sycamore across the lane.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/10/2010 at 13:20

I saw my first Mistle Thrush for a long time today. I regularly get Robins, Blue and Great Tits, Finches and occasionaly a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. that's a nice tip about the seeds. I left the heads from my sunflowers out and they've been devoured by squirrels. I do so hate grey squirrels.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/10/2010 at 14:23

To date I have had 24 species of bird in my garden. I only feed them Black Sunflower seeds on the table, peanuts in metal feeders, nyjer seed in feeders, that gold finches go crazy for, they be queueing in the trees for a go. I also leave apples on the ground for Blackbirds and hopefully again some Red Wing. A Field Fare this year though would bring the species list up to 25. Heres hoping.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/10/2010 at 18:59

i have been feeding the birds for a good few years now and get loads of differant types of bird in my garden on a daily basis. yesterday i saw for the first time a sparrowhawk in my garden however the excitement soon turned to sadness as i then saw a great-tit in its claws.....it then flew of with little bird..... im going to garden centre over the weekend and im gonna buy some of theses nyjer seeds i do keep looking at them,but the birds i mainly get in my garden are robins,great-tits,blue-tits,wrens,blackbirds loads of starlings,sparrows, wagtails,woodpeckers,magpies,crows,pigeons,so im not sure if they will eat the nyjer seed???? does anyone know if they will???????

Gardeners' World Web User 28/10/2010 at 19:16

I have a three quarter acer garden, large trees,shrubs,large lawn,flower borders,2 ponds,vegetable beds, soft fruit, raspberry, blackcurrants, gooseberries and strawberries. I do not use any artificial fertilisers or pesticides and have 6 large compost bins. We came to this house 11 years ago. I counted 28 bird species when we came in. 5 years ago a sparrow hawk appeared in the garden and nested in some nearby trees. Since then our small bird population has vanished. No food has been taken from the bird table or the 3 feeders. I have contacted the RSPB and they say that this is normal.Why when everybody else seems to have plenty of birds, why not me? Any suggestions? Walter Binns.

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