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Feeding birds in summer

Feeding the birds

Feeding birds used to be a winter activity, from Christmas until the first spring flowers appeared. But birds need our help in the summer months just as much as during the winter.

Because birds breed in the spring and early summer, by July and August there are millions more hungry mouths to feed. For tits, finches and sparrows, garden feeding stations provide a real lifeline. And even for birds like robins, wrens, thrushes and blackbirds, availability of insects, fruits and berries is, to a large extent, the result of gardening habits. The more bird-friendly the garden, the more birds it will support.

As we and the birds enjoy the summer sunshine, autumn and winter (when food is more scarce) are only a couple of months away. If this year's youngsters and their parents can obtain enough energy now, they'll have the energy resources to survive leaner times ahead.


Natural food availability

Nesting parents have a particularly tough time in summer. The job of finding hundreds of caterpillars a day is hard work for a pair of blue tits, so any extra food to maintain their own energy levels is welcome. They may also have to cope with dry weather, when earthworms burrow deep beneath the surface; or in wet weather, when foraging is difficult.

In July and August, species like blackbirds and song thrushes often have second and even third broods. This means they have to find food for a new family at a time when their offspring from the first brood may also be struggling to survive.

Supplementary feeding

Just as in winter, high-energy food is the key to summer feeding. Live food is also recommended as it allows the adult birds to supplement the food they can find in the wild for their chicks, and also helps replenish their own low energy levels. It's best if you can avoid foods that might melt in hot weather, such as products containing lots of fat.

Peanuts used to be the staple item on our bird feeding menu, but the increase in alternatives such as sunflower hearts means we now have a greater choice. Peanuts might spread aflatoxin, a fungal infection that can be lethal to birds. Check the pack before you buy to make sure the nuts have been tested for aflatoxin. Whatever you do, never put out nuts intended for human consumption, because they contain dangerous levels of salt.

What to feed birds

The following food can be fed to garden birds throughout the year:

Sunflower hearts

Sunflower hearts are packed with energy, and are easier for birds to eat as they don't have a tough seed coat to crack open. They are also a cleaner alternative to whole sunflower seeds, as the birds don't have any seed coats to discard.

Mealworms

Mealworms are the perfect summer dietry supplement. Lives ones are best but a dried alternative is available.

Fruit

Fruit is an excellent source of energy for ground-feeding birds like robins, thrushes and blackbirds. Raisins, sultanas, apples and pears are all suitable.

Leftovers

Many leftovers are ideal for feeding hungry birds. Cooked pasta and rice are high in energy, as is rind or fat from unsalted meat. You can also leave out cooked vegetables, pastry and grated cheese, but avoid salty food or bread, as this can be bad for birds.



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Talkback: Feeding birds in summer
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midgelet 24/11/2011 at 15:29

I feed the birds a variety of food - mixed wild bird seed, peanuts late in the season when the babies have grown up and mixed seed plus mealworms. I also give them leftovers with home made wholewheat bread mixed with cooked pasta and grated cheese which is a great favourite.

foreveryoung 24/11/2011 at 15:29

We feed the birds all year long, with nyger seed, mixed bird seed and peanuts, but recently we have started putting out raisins and the blackbirds now eat it from our hands. The other day I was a bit late in putting the raisins out and upon leaving the french doors open, whilst I was in the kitchen a blackbird came right in.

JEA72 24/11/2011 at 15:29

IS IT OK TO FEED DRIED FRUIT OR IS IT BETTER TO SOAK THEM IN WARM WATER FIRST? THIS IS WHAT I HAVE ALWAYS DONE BUT IT WOULD BE EASIER TO PUT THEM OUT DRIED

lesleyroses 24/11/2011 at 15:29

Living near farmland i and other neighbours have a lot of magpies and blackbirds in our gardens fighting for the food we leave for the small birds. What food can we leave out for the small birds if any that the magpies etc won't touch.

frjohnemlyn 24/11/2011 at 15:29

Lesleyroses,

We are in a similar position. I find that using the regtangular feeding cages allows the small birds in to eat safely and in comfort, and keeps the bully boys like starlings out.
It ha small entrances for the birds .

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