The shortage of food in the countryside means that gardens are fast becoming an important habitat for many birds. Did you know, for example, that nearly 25% of song thrushes are now found in gardens? By providing food all year round, you can improve things for birds even more. For many years the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has advocated feeding birds throughout the year and not just in wintertime when people have traditionally fed birds. Here are some of the reasons why.
- In the spring birds need to be in good condition for breeding and food can be in short supply. Providing oyster shell grit in spring and early summer, for example, will supply the calcium needs of egg laying females and has been shown to boost productivity.
- Later on, when the adults are feeding their young, providing them with a ready supply of food means they can devote most of their time to finding the insect food that their offspring need to develop into healthy individuals. Or you can feed live foods that the adults can feed to their young.
- In late summer providing food will help the young birds once they have left the nest. You will be amazed at how many young greenfinches you can get onto a tubular feeder when it is filled with sunflower seeds.
Each type of bird has its particular likes and dislikes so it is best to feed a range of foods in different ways to attract as many as possible.
Birds like blackbirds and song thrushes, for example, like to search for food on the ground so scattering food - especially those with dried fruit - will accommodate them. Other species like finches and sparrows prefer a birdtable, which has the advantage that it can be kept clean.
Birdfeeders are ideal for many birds. Tits and finches will be attracted to tubular feeders filled with sunflower seeds and mixes, especially sunflower hearts and husk-free mixes. Wire mesh feeders filled with peanuts may attract great spotted woodpeckers and siskins. Goldfinches have a particular liking for feeders filled with niger seed.
Always place the food near to cover so that the birds can dive into it and hide should a sparrowhawk pass through the garden. But be careful not to put the food right next to cover since it may hide a lurking cat - you wouldn’t want all your efforts wasted.