Wildlife Friendly Gardening

One common question our group members often get asked is about feeding the birds – Group Leader Andy and wife, Jan have asked and answered the most pressing questions related to setting up your own bird café!

Why Feed? “Because it is good for the birds” is part of the answer but “because I enjoy it” is the other part. Watching birds is fun and they brighten up our gardens – especially in a miserable Scottish summer!

Where to put my feeders? If possible position the feeders in, or near to, trees or bushes where the birds can hide and assess the territory. They need to feel safe and keep a lookout for cats, etc. You also want to find a position where you can see the birds and enjoy watching their behaviour and even photograph them if that is also of interest. On the other hand you must be patient at the start. They can be fussy and a small change of ‘venue’ can make a big difference. A pole to hold your feeders is worth getting, as this allows you to place them within easy reach and also allows you flexibility in changing the location more easily. Or you can get special hooks for branches, or use a pulley system for raising and lowering your feeder – these can be very useful. Feeders can be hung on verandas or stuck to windows with suction cups; so you don’t need a garden to enjoy feeding birds!

What type of food? Variety is best but we only use two; sunflower hearts (no waste) and fat cakes or balls. Birds can be fussy, and will often select a particular grain from a mixture and discard others. Some, cheap mixed seeds end up scattered all over the ground rather than being eaten. We have watched blue tits ‘throw out’ the canary seeds onto the ground while gobbling up the other types they prefer. However, there are many sources of, good, mixed foods available and if you provide the food the birds will come. Sources of fat, either as fat balls or fat cakes, can attract different birds so are well worth the cost and effort (we have a regular great spotted woodpecker who only eats the fat cake).

Reliability. Some say you must be reliable in supplying the food because the birds will learn to come to your patch and depend on that source of supply. Others point out that, in the wild, birds are used to irregular food sources. When one site “dries up”, they will just move to another food source.

Health & Safety. Cleanliness is essential. You must clean feeders, and water baths, regularly. There is no necessity to purchase fancy cleaning products, though some of these do help. Plain hot water with a bit of washing up liquid is sufficient, but must be done regularly particularly in wet weather as the food gets clogged up at the bottom of the feeder and can go mouldy. You can now buy feeders that are very easy to take apart for this purpose. You can use trays, attached to feeders to reduce the food that falls to the ground or use sunflower hearts. That way you avoid attracting rats, in fact I have never had to worry about rats.

Type of Feeder. Do not think you need to purchase a really expensive feeder, nor a really huge one. We found that a huge feeder did not mean the seed lasted longer, just that more birds fed at one time. A variety of feeders can be more useful, e.g. one for seed, one for fat cake, and maybe one for nyjer seed. However, I would advise against the very cheap ones as they do sometimes deteriorate or fall apart more quickly. You can purchase feeders from so many sources that I am not going to list them here but they vary from hardware stores, e.g. Wilko, through garden centres, e.g. Dobbie’s, to specialist suppliers, including RSPB, Jacobi Jayne, CJ Wild Bird Foods and many others. Some have plastic perches, and some metal perches. All have their place and some are better than others.

Squirrels! Yes these can be a real nuisance. We purchased squirrel proof cages to put round our feeders and the little so-and-sos still managed to reach the port-holes and not only get to the food but chewed the plastic ports off the feeder! So, now we have spent a considerable amount of money on fancy squirrel proof feeders. However, you can get other gadgets to use on a pole, etc., which probably work well too. Yes this is more initial cost but in the long run it will save you needing to keep purchasing new feeders, and will mean the birds will have the food to themselves. You can also buy feeders with metal parts that squirrels cannot chew. On the other hands many people enjoy watching squirrels in their gardens.

Cats. Some folks worry about their neighbours’ cats or their own cat seeing feeders as a “fast food outlet”. It really isn’t a major problem. Site your feeders so that birds can see the cats coming and attract plenty of birds so that there are many eyes to watch and the birds will cope.