Frequently Asked Questions – Garden Birds
- How can I attract birds to my garden?
- How often should I feed the birds?
- Do birds need feeding in summer?
- Are hanging feeders or bird tables better?
- Can I feed birds bread?
- What’s the best food for garden birds?
- How can I stop squirrels from eating the birdseed?
- Where should I put a bird box?
- Why do birds need birdbaths?
- How can I clean my bird feeders safely?
- How can I look after birds during cold winters?
- What do I do if I find a baby bird?
How can I attract birds to my garden?
Birds are on the lookout for two things; food and safety. If you have a garden with plenty of shrubs and trees, birds will arrive of their own accord as plants and vegetation provide food and shelter.
If you have a more open garden such as concrete or lawn but no real vegetation, hanging bird feeders, bird tables and bird boxes are your best option. It’ll only take birds a few days to discover this new source of food and they’ll be back regularly once they know your garden.
Safety is very important for birds and so gardens with dogs and cats running around will see less birdlife simply because the birds don’t feel safe. This doesn’t mean you can’t have pets to enjoy a vibrant bird community, but trees, bushes and high feeding platforms are important to separate the birds from mammals.
How often should I feed birds?
Birds are excellent food finders but in our increasingly urbanised world, they can come to rely on us feeding them more and more. This is especially true in winter, when food is much harder for them to find.
In general, start out with a small amount of food on a bird table or a single handing feeder full of seed. You’ll soon find out if there’s not enough when you find the bird seed gone and keen looking birds still checking the empty table.
Be wary of putting too much seed out however, as uneaten seed will grow mouldy, start growing unwanted plants underneath the table or feeder and attract squirrels and rats.
Do birds need feeding in the summer?
While there is an abundance of natural foods such as insects and seeds for the birds to find in the summer, urban areas can still challenge birds. Summer is also a time where birds are run off their feet trying to feed their young. If you’ve ever seen fledgling birds hopping about the garden then you’ll know how demanding they are!
So yes, it’s a good idea to feed birds not only in summer, but all year round too. This will keep our garden bird population healthy and stable.
Are hanging feeders or bird tables better?
Neither are better than the other per se, but they do attract different birds and have various benefits.
Finches, tits and other small garden birds love to hang onto feeders and peck the seeds out. These tiny birds are highly adept at balancing and gripping fine wires and mesh and the hanging feeder gives them safety and a good view across the area. This makes them feel safe and more likely to get enough food.
Larger birds such as blackbirds and thrushes cannot grip easily onto hanging feeders and prefer bird tables. Bird tables should be at least 4 feet off the ground to keep birds safe from cats and foxes.
Bird tables with roofs are particularly useful in bad weather, allowing birds to feed in the rain and keeping the seed dry. Many hanging bird feeders have roof overhangs too.
Can I feed birds bread?
While it may seem obvious to crumble stale bread up and put it on the bird table, you should think very carefully about what bread it is. Breads are processed foods that can contain refined sugars and refined, bleached flour. White bread has no useful nutrition for birds but still makes them feel full which can be very dangerous.
Wholemeal breads are much better but in general, birdseed is far superior as a food for birds. Refrain from feeding white bread to any birds, including ducks.
What’s the best food for garden birds?
Each species of bird has a favourite food but really, they’re not all that picky. If you have a range of birds visiting your garden then the best option is to put out a range of foods.
Nuts, apples, sunflower seeds, mixed seeds and mealworms will all be snapped up quickly and if you sit and watch from a distance, you’ll soon see who prefers what. Fat balls and suet and also great foods for winter, when birds need more energy and fat to stay warm.
How can I stop squirrels from eating the birdseed?
Some gardens are disrupted frequently by squirrels looking for an easy meal. The problems arise when squirrels chew through bird feeders and frighten the birds away, so it’s understandable that you may want to deter them.
The best way to keep birds fed and squirrels off elsewhere is to invest in a squirrel proof bird feeder. Squirrels are extremely determined and imaginative creatures but there are a few feeders out there that do a good job. All you need is to make the seed too much effort for the squirrel to bother with.
An addition to this is to provide a peanut squirrel feeder at the other side of your garden to your squirrel proof bird feeder. This will keep the squirrels fed and happy and they won’t try to eat from the bird feeder when they can more easily get food nearby.
Check out our reviews of squirrel proof bird feeders here. http://gardenbirdlife.com/
Where should I put a bird box?
Bird box locations really depend on the type of bird but there are some general places that are ideal. Placing bird boxes on trees over 6 feet off the ground is a great place for many birds.
Sparrows, starlings and swallows like to nest under the eaves of houses and boxes especially for these birds are easily available. Robins like nesting in private and putting a bird box on a wall behind shrubbery will appeal to these little garden favourites.
As long as bird boxes are a reasonable distance from the ground (to keep the birds safe from cats and the like) and protected from nasty weather (facing away from prevailing winds or located under overhanging roofs or branches) then you’re very likely to get a little family of birds there soon enough.
Why do birds need birdbaths?
It might seem strange to provide wild birds with a birdbath, after all, surely they can find water for themselves? Yes, they have no problem finding drinking water but the real appeal of birdbaths is the safety factor.
Natural water sources can be dangerous places for birds as they often have dense vegetation surrounding them. Birds are very vulnerable when washing their feathers and birdbaths provide the perfect scenario.
Ensure that your birdbath is several feet high and in a reasonably open space. This means that the birds have an excellent vantage point and can wash while keeping a good eye out.
Birds are small so make sure that the birdbath is shallow and that the water isn’t frozen in winter. Lukewarm water is a great way to keep the birdbath useable in the cold months.
Check out our stone birdbath reviews here
How can I clean my bird feeders safely?
Bird feeders can get mouldy or mucky quickly and keeping them clean is important. The best option is to soak them in a heavily diluted bleach solution (1 part bleach, 9 parts water) for a few minutes and wash well with hot water.
Wet weather will cause seed to mould faster and it’s important to clean feeders regularly, perhaps once a week or fortnight, and change uneaten seed regularly too.
How can I look after birds during cold winters?
Winter tends to be the time we worry about birds the most and tough winters can push birds to their limits. But there’s plenty we can do.
- Put fat balls, suet and bird seed out in the garden regularly.
- Keep birdbaths liquid by pouring lukewarm water in whenever frost or freezing temperatures descend.
- Put up bird boxes in early autumn, as many birds like to sleep in them for warmth during winter.
What do I do if I find a baby bird?
Baby birds sometimes appear on the ground in spring and early summer and this can be a difficult situation for the bird lover. In general, human to bird contact should be avoided as much as possible and so baby birds should be left alone.
Birds communicate by calls and baby birds that have fallen out of nests or made their first, awkward flight, will soon be located by the parents. Many bird species continue feeding and looking after their young after they’ve flown the nest and this is nothing to worry about.
Fledglings are baby birds that have left the nest and they usually look scruffy and call continuously for their parents. This is a normal and natural part of their growing up and the parents are never far away. The best idea is to keep cats indoors if there are fledglings on the lawn and allow the parents to look after them.
If you find a baby bird without feathers and with its eyes closed, it may have fallen out of a nest prematurely. If you know where the nest is, you can try placing it back in, if accessible, or in a nearby shrub.
Try not to get involved with baby birds however, as hard as that might be. Parent birds locate missing chicks very quickly and it can be easy to misunderstand a natural fledgling for a bird in danger.