Humans and birds have a long history. We would not be here today if we didn't share this planet with our winged cousins, as they sustain much of the plant life that we rely on to live by eating insects and other small creatures which feed upon the foliage of trees. In return for their actions in keeping nature's balance, we provide human-created homes for these organisms through bird boxes and feeders.
Feeding Our Feathered Friends
As the days get shorter and the weather becomes colder, we're tempted to put more and more food out for our garden birds. But would you be better off only putting out fresh seed on sunny days? Should you also consider what type of food is best – and even how often you should clean your feeders?
When is the best time to put out bird food?
There are a few things to consider when it comes to deciding when to put out bird feed. It would be best to establish whether your garden birds typically eat in the morning or the evening. This depends on what kind of birds they are; some species will eat seeds during both parts of the day (e.g. song thrush), while others will only eat grains in the morning (e.g. nuthatch).
What kind of food to put out?
Next, you should look at what kind of food you're putting out; do they need extra seeds or are there plenty of natural foods available already? It's unnecessary to feed the birds fat balls throughout autumn and winter – if berries are growing on trees, these can provide them with a good energy boost instead. Additionally, if your bird feeders have been empty for a while, perhaps it's a sign that a predator has discovered their location – so check that animals such as squirrels aren't causing this by ransacking the feeders each night.
A bird feeder camera can be an excellent way to monitor and protect feeding birds from predators in your garden.
How can you make sure that all birds can get fed?
If you feed the birds in your garden during spring and summer, you should also think about how many different types of birds are visiting. If plenty of small birds are coming to the feeder, but larger birds aren't taking advantage, it might be worth putting up a bird table with peanuts instead. However, if this doesn't work, perhaps try using different sized feeders – smaller ones for smaller birds.
What happens during the seasons in the UK?
The best thing to do is set out some food at regular intervals throughout each year; this will allow certain species to visit whenever they're hungry.
In autumn, a good idea would be to put out more fat balls than usual so that song thrushes can bulk up in preparation for the winter. During this time, it's also essential to make sure that all your bird feed is protected from any strong gusts of wind, or else it could end up being scattered over the ground in no time at all.
During cold winter spells in the UK there can often be hard frosts and snowfall, which makes finding food more difficult for birds. If you're worried about birds not finding enough food, then it might be worth hanging a suet log outside during cold weather. Suet logs are rich in protein, which is perfect when birds are busy keeping warm indoors.
Spring will slowly bring brighter days and warmer weather, but there are still colder patches where birds struggle to find food. Spring is also the time of year where most parents need to feed their young. Some people like to put out bread; however, this isn't a good idea as it quickly turns bad and can be dangerous to any birds that eat it. It would help if you thought about putting out more seeds in the spring instead of suet, which is typically more prevalent during the winter months.
You'll also see more moulting birds throughout springtime, as birds begin to shed baby feathers in preparation to fly.
Summer in the UK brings us beautiful long days with plenty of sunshine for our garden birds to take advantage of. However, if there isn't much rain, your feeder must stay clean; otherwise, the food could quickly become covered in bacteria and mould. Additionally, because there are usually more trees with berries on them during summer, you can put up some bird feeders (with peanuts) near bushes or plants that do bear fruit, but it’s not that necessary. It's ideal to provide nectar-rich plants, like buddleia, that will attract pollinators such as butterflies.
Some birds nest late into the summer months, here's how to factor late nesting birds into your considerations.
For even more tips, advice and help here are the Do's and Do not's of feeding birds.
Do you have pets?
Last but not least, if you're worried about squirrels wrecking your feeders or cats bothering the birds, then this should be your biggest priority. You can buy various small gadgets that will stop larger animals from accessing your bird food at all; however, it's a good idea to keep an eye on your furry friends when they're in the garden. It's nice to both watch out for wildlife and to provide small gifts for our beloved pets – so don't forget to put out a bit of cat food now and again!
Loss of habitat
However, while these strategies may be enormously helpful for being kinder to our feathered friends, they may not solve one of the most significant problems facing bird populations worldwide: the loss of habitat. This is especially true where many forests have long since been chopped down for lumber or simply cleared away to make new houses. These birds are often forced to move into cities or suburbs where there's plenty of food for them, but some people aren't too happy about that idea, even if these "weeds" might be better off on their lawns than having nowhere at all.
Unfortunately, habitat loss is a worldwide problem. If you want to help your local birds survive climate change or other environmental factors likely to affect their home range, consider getting involved with a habitat conservation group. Working to save the places where your favourite birds live – be it a park, a forest, or somewhere else – can help them survive even when they need our help the most.
Happy Bird Feeding!