Blue tits feasting on fat balls - feeding garden birds

Blue tits feasting on fat balls. Image credit: S Tonkin

Supplementary feeding of the birds in your garden helps them to survive periods of natural food shortage and severe winter weather, and gives them a better chance of being in peak condition for breeding. It is also a very pleasurable pastime to watch a variety of species at close quarters.

It may take a while for the number of birds visiting your feeders to build up because when the weather is mild they can take advantage of the naturally occurring seeds, berries and insects. But when these start running out and when the weather turns colder your feeders will become an important source of food.

When should I feed the birds?

Once you start feeding the birds in your garden it’s a good idea to continue to do so all year round. Just adjust the amounts and type of feed according to the time of year and the weather. Fat balls can go off in warm weather and should be discarded if they look past their best.

It’s important to keep those garden bird feeders stocked up over the winter months and into the spring but over the summer, autumn and early winter when there is usually an abundance of food in the garden, parks and countryside you may not need to put out as much food.

How should I feed the birds?

Moorhen on Feeder - S Abbott - garden birds

An unusual sight on a bird feeder – a moorhen! Image credit: S Abbott

Different bird species feed in different ways. Blackbirds and robins prefer to feed off the ground but will also feed from bird tables. Finches, sparrows and tits will happily feed from hanging feeders and mesh feeders. Having said that, birds will adapt if they really need the food. We have seen a moorhen balancing on our hanging feeder at our office!

You will attract a greater number of species if you have a mixture of feeders. A good all round feeding station would be a bird table with feeder seed feeders and fat balls hanging off it. Ground feeding tables are available but you need to beware of predators such as cats. Some ground feeding tables come with a cage that allows small birds through but deter predators and larger birds like pigeons. Pigeons will clear the food in no time!

Hygiene is important. Clean your bird feeders regularly with a mild disinfectant, then rinse well and allow to dry before refilling with seeds. This will reduce disease transmission between your feathered visitors.

What should I feed the birds?

As with feeder types, a variety of different foods will attract a greater number of species.

  • Seed mixes feed a variety of species. According to experts at the RSPB, the best seed mixes contain plenty of flaked maize, sunflower seeds and peanut granules. The flaked maize is popular with blackbirds, while smaller birds enjoy small seeds such as millet and pin head oatmeal. Tits and greenfinches like sunflower seeds and peanuts.
  • Nyjer seeds are high in oil and loved by gold finches and siskins. They are very small seeds and require a special type of feeder with small holes.
  • Peanuts are rich in fat and are popular with house sparrows, great spotted woodpeckers, greenfinches, siskins and nuthatches. Don’t use slated or dry roasted peanuts and buy from a reputable source to ensure that they are low in aflatoxin, a natural toxin that can kill birds.
  • Black sunflower seeds are higher in oil content than the striped sunflower seeds are an be more popular with the birds than peanuts.
  • Fat balls and suet cakes make good winter food and are popular with a wide range of species, particularly starlings and house sparrows. If you buy them in a plastic mesh, remove the mesh and place in a special fat ball feeder or on your bird table. Small birds can get their feet trapped in the plastic mesh. You can make your own fat balls and cakes. At the bottom of this page is a recipe from the RSPB.

Why choose Fair to Nature bird food?

Fair to Nature tractor logo

Look for the logo on pack and in catalogues.

Fair to Nature accredited bird food benefits not only the birds in your garden but also birds in the countryside and farmland because Fair to Nature farmers grow special seed bearing crops to feed the farmland birds. The habitats on these farms provide food not only during the lean late winter and early spring period, but all year round. The wildflower habitats that they also grow provides birds with seeds and insects during the spring and summer months. This means that even migrant birds like the increasingly rare turtle dove benefit. You can read more about how our Fair to Nature farmers help wildlife by reading this article from the RSPB’s magazine Nature’s Home.

Wild bird food crop on a Fair to Nature Farm

Wild bird food habitat on a Fair to Nature Farm.

Fair to Nature bird food allows you to care about far more birds (and other wildlife) than just those that visit your garden, so it’s a great choice for all nature lovers. The majority of seeds and grains in the RSPB’s bird food range are sourced from Fair to Nature farms, as are the Ultiva range from GardenBird and the Honeyfield’s range from Marriage’s. You can find out more about these brands and where you can purchase by visiting our Fair to Nature brands page.

Fair to Nature farmers also provide supplementary food wild birds by spreading seed mixes along farm tracks.

Making your own bird food cake

You will need:

  • Suet or lard – melted (take care with hot fat!)
  • Mixture of seeds, nuts, dried fruit, oatmeal, cheese and cake
  • Container, e.g. plastic cup or empty half of a coconut shell, or fir cones

Place the seed/nuts/fruit/oatmeal/cheese/cake mixture in a bowl and pour over the melted fat. Stir well and allow it to set in the container of your choice. If using fir cones, either dip the cones into the mixture when it has cooled down (so that you don’t burn yourself!) or smear the mixture onto the cones using your fingers – a nice messy job for children to get stuck into. You can then tie some string around the cone, and the other containers and hang them in the trees or off your bird table. Alternatively you can just turn it out on your bird table when solid.

Once you’ve encouraged the birds to visit your garden, don’t forget to take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch which takes place at the end of January every year.

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