Austerity bird feeding

Wednesday 16 January 2013, 16:01

Paul Deane Paul Deane Web Producer

Can I introduce Dr Tim Harrison at the British Trust for Ornithology with a topical guide to feeding birds in winter, on a shoestring.


Feeding birds during winter can give them a real helping hand, improving their prospects of surviving into the breeding season. However, feeding can be an expensive business and economic times are tough. So, what can you do?

Use your bird food wisely – make sure that you don’t put out too much food as this could go soggy and mouldy. Provide enough for a day or so, then top it up again.

Protect your food – larger bird and squirrels can demolish a lot of food, so you can try excluding these with feeder cages.

Make your own fat cake – it’s pretty simple to make a suet-based fat-cake (always use a hard fat like suet, as soft fats can coat a bird’s feathers). Mix in some seeds and mealworms to make it extra nutritious.

Grow your own – you can even start up your own Mealworm colony if you want to save some pennies! Grow Your Own mealworms.

Use (some) kitchen scraps – a few decades ago, feeding birds was based on the provision of kitchen scraps and there are plenty of tit bits that birds will enjoy. A few bread or cake crumbs will be fine, and apples or pears past their best will be taken. However, avoid meats (could attract vermin), greasy foods (might coat feathers), salty foods (could dehydrate or be toxic) and dried fruits/coconut/rice/pasta.  

Avoid false economies – it might seem sensible to opt for a budget seed mix, but often this contains a lot of ‘filler’, such as corn, which is OK for some birds (such as Woodpigeons and House Sparrows) but not much else. Save money on other things. Quality seeds, such as sunflower hearts and nyjer seeds, are fantastic for attracting and supporting lots of different bird species. Such foods seem to be particularly important this winter with natural seed and nut crops appearing to be down.


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    Comment number 1.

    Winter Watch uses food to attract animals to its cameras and we are encouraged to feed birds in our gardens. Why then are we told not to intervene when an animal is found abandoned and starving, as happened on last night's programme when the camera showed us an abandoned seal pup? We have seal sanctuaries. Please explain why and where the line is drawn between intervention and non-intervention?

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    Comment number 2.

    I have seen both male and female blackcaps feeding on the fat balls both this year and also last year. This in Tavistock, Devon.

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    Comment number 3.

    I'm baffled by the resident blackbirds who spend as much time chasing each other away from my feeding stations as they do actually feeding. Yet they totally ignore other species, sparrows, robins, starlings and even waddling woodpigeons. Any comments on this behaviour?
    And what's happened to the collared doves that were so numerous hereabouts (South Yorkshire)? Last winter I counted 16 in a nearby sycamore; this winter, I can't recall seeing one. Where are they all?

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    Comment number 4.

    First time visit from a Goldcrest in our Stourbridge town garden. Could it be the extra pink pellets or apple we put out?

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    Comment number 5.

    Hi Georgina - thanks for your comment. That's a very big subject and I feel I can't do it justice here, but as the NHU, when filming wild animals we don't intervene, as would undermine the integrity of what we do.


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