Feed the Birds
From advice on
feeders and tables to her own bird food recipe, Michaela
Strachan is brimming with brilliant solutions for keeping
our feathered friends happy through the winter
‘Feed the birds
Tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag.’
Well I haven’t started with a song for ages! Any
guesses where that comes from? Anyway it is the perfect
time of year to ‘Feed the Birds’, although
these days it may well cost more than tuppence! It’s
something I touched on in last month’s article,
but as it’s so important for encouraging wildlife
into your gardens, I thought it was worthy of an article
all to itself!
It is actually now
thought that we can feed our feathery garden friends
all year round, but at this time of the year it is particularly
important. Just as we need to put the woollies on, they
need to put the fat on to keep warm. Actually, quite
a lot of us seem to do that too over the winter months!!
October to April is also a time when natural food is
in short supply, especially these days when a lot of
people have tidier gardens, (not us wildlife gardeners,
of course) and with changes in farming methods.
Variety is the spice
of life, and when it comes to bird feeders life is very
spicy. Choosing one that’s suitable to your garden
is mainly down to personal choice and common sense.
Many feeders these days have been made squirrel proof.
Personally I wouldn’t be without my friendly garden
squirrel, he’s a very welcome visitor and although
he has wrecked a few of my feeders over the years, seems
to quite happily share with the other birds and provides
me with much visual entertainment.
You could go for
the good old bird table. They attract a huge variety
of birds and you can in turn supply a variety of foods.
There are a few important things to consider though.
Don’t have a table that’s too small as it
may start squabbles!! Check that the table has drainage
holes, otherwise food can become horribly soggy. A good
bird table should last 10 years or so as long as you
avoid wood that rots quickly, like silver birch logs.
Some of the thinner plastic ones can go brittle and
crack too, so basically don’t go for a cheap cheerful
one, instead go for a bit of long-lasting quality. Make
sure you put your table in an open site away from easy
access by predators, especially cats. If you do have
a lot of feline visitors in your garden you should also
think about the pole. Smooth, straight poles are obviously
harder for cats to climb. Better still, go for a metal
pole. The last thing you want to do is encourage the
birds into your garden just to provide an easy take
away for the local kitty! If you live in an area where
sparrowhawks are present obviously be careful not to
have your table in too open a space. Again, it really
is a matter of common sense.
Many bird tables
have a nesting roof. Pretty as they are, they are not
really recommended, as in spring if it does get used,
the nesting tenants can get very territorial. A roof
is not a bad idea though as it keeps the food from getting
too wet. It also deters the larger birds, which, depending
on how you view it, can be a good thing. It’s
also important to clean your table to prevent growth
of bacteria like salmonella and to avoid diseases being
passed on from one bird to another.
On to the hanging
feeders. There is a spicy variety to choose from. Personally
I prefer the ones you hang with a hook. In my experience
the ones you stick onto your window with suckers seem
to always fall off. Although it has, when behaving itself
attracted a lot of the smaller birds such as tits, and
it does mean you can watch them at very close quarters.
Some birds prefer
feeding on the ground. Along with my feeders I always
put a few bits on a tray on the lawn. This will attract
blackbirds, thrushes, dunnocks and inevitably the good
old pigeon! Although on many occasions I have seen one
or two fat pigeons trying to balance on a hanging feeder
as well. Always a comical sight!
My general advice
is to put a variety of feeding stations out with a variety
· “Tits like Coconuts” (ho, ho, ho! Sounds
like a good title for a new gardening programme!) But
they do. So if you want to give your tits a treat put
out half a fresh coconut and they’ll love it.
· Finches love sunflower seeds. Obviously if you put
them into a hanging feeder don’t use a wire mesh
peanut feeder as they’ll all fall out. Sounds
obvious I know, but you’d be surprised.
· Woodpeckers and nuthatches appreciate a nice bit of
fat like suet or cheese spread on the bark of a tree.
· All birds like a good birdseed mix, soaked brown bread
(always best to soak it), porridge oats, currants, apples
and unsalted peanuts. I often do a mix of all these
things and put them in a tray on the lawn. Be careful
if your garden is visited by other creatures like rats
though. Fat cakes are another tasty treat.
Getting birds to
recognize your feeders may take time. Be patient. It
took a few weeks to encourage our birds, but now we
get a huge variety and they really do provide us with
many hours of pleasure. Another obvious thing to remember
is that if you want to watch your birds feeding, make
sure you choose a site that you can easily see to put
your feeders up!! Also, very importantly, make sure
the birds have access to water too.
And finally.... a
1. Take a beer can or similar. Drink the contents! Cut
off the top of the can. Do not cut yourself!
2. Insert into the can a wire coat hanger with a twist
in the bottom.
3. Make the mixture e.g. porridge oats blended to a
powder, fat such as dripping, seeds, nuts, fruit (do
not include anything with salt: it is bad for birds).
4. Pour the mixture into the can. Wait for it to set
and then dip the can into hot water and pull the cake
5. Hang it in your garden, make a cup of tea, and enjoy
a few hours of bird watching!
Stay gardening wild!
PS The song was from
See also Michaela’s
previous article on:
Photographs: Blackbird on bird table © Mark Hamblin,
Oxford Scientific Films; Greenfinch and Blue Tit eating
peanuts © Colin Milkins, Oxford Scientific Films
reprinted with permission from Greenfingers.com