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The Dos and Don'ts of Feeding Birds

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Carduelis carduelis

Putting out food for birds in your garden is a great way to not only help them replace energy in the lean winter months but also encourage more species that you can spot – or capture on camera. What a lot of people don’t realise, however, is that quite a few of the foods that are most commonly used can actually be detrimental to the birds’ health.

Exact feeding requirements will actually vary quite a lot in between species, so it’s always worth checking with a source such as the RSPB if you have a frequent visitor that you want to help out. To help with some of the important points, however, we’ve put together this quick list of some easy-to-follow Dos and Don’ts.

Do

If using pre-bought bird seed mixes, try and avoid cheaper brands. These can often be bulked out with filler material such as milo seed or chunks of dried pet food, that has very little nutritional value, and will potentially be left by birds to go rotten, spoiling the rest of the seeds.

Make sure any food is broken or cut up into smaller pieces, as larger chunks – especially of drier foods – can pose a serious choking risk

Feed your leftovers to the birds! Many foodstuffs that commonly get discarded as scraps can be ideal for feeding. Cut up leftover vegetables, cooked pasta and meat fat trimmings can all be great sources of nutrition. The most important thing, though, is to never feed birds leftovers that have turned bad.

Raw peanuts can be an ideal food. Make sure you go for peanuts that aren’t roasted or salted and are free from Aflatoxin – generally this means going for peanuts that are sold specifically as bird food. Unless you are feeding larger birds, it is generally best to cut the nuts up into smaller chunks. You can also use peanut butter, which can be smeared on a coconut shell, or directly onto a tree.

Cook up some fat balls! These are an ideal high-calorie food for the winter months when birds need to replace a lot of lost energy. Not only that but making them can be a great activity to get kids involved with.

Remember natural food sources as well. Fruit trees such as crab apples and cherries can attract Blackbirds, Doves and Thrushes, while Teasels are perfect for feeding smaller finches and tits.

Robin eating mealworms

Birds love eating mealworms

Don’t

Put out mouldy food. This is one of the easiest mistakes to make, as kitchen leftovers can spoil quickly, and birdseed purchased in large batches can also turn bad if not stored correctly. It helps to not leave out too much food at a time, as anything not eaten straight away can lead to mould on your table or in the feeder. Mouldy or rotten feed can easily make them sick, potentially fatally.

Put out milk. Unlike Mammals, which have evolved to drink milk, most birds are lactose intolerant, and so their digestive systems can’t handle it. The only dairy food that should generally be used is mild cheese if cut up into small chunks.

Use foods with margarine or vegetable oil. This is especially the case when making things like fat balls. Not only are these types of fats not calorific enough to meet their nutritional needs, but they smear easily, clogging up their feathers and ruining their insulating and weatherproofing qualities.

Use wholly processed foods. Whilst white carbohydrates such as bread and pasta aren’t bad for beards per se, they have little nutritional value for them, so are more or less junk food. Wholegrain carbohydrates are generally much better for them – and for us!

Desiccated Coconut. Fresh coconut can be a great food source, however, when desiccated it will swell up in the bird's stomach after they eat it, causing harm.

Put food out in nylon nets. Many packs of bird food, such as seeds and peanuts, are sold inside nylon netting, they need to be removed from the net before you put them on a table or in a feeder. Birds’ feet can easily get tangled in the netting, causing injury or trapping them.


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