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 7.

    I regularly put out fresh food for the birds but for the last year, after previously having to refill the feeders daily, the birds are no longer feeding - puzzled?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    A male blackcap has visited our feeder in Somerset several times a day. He always goes to the fatballs and never the nuts or seeds.
    On a related subject, what do people think about feeding birds on 'unnatural' foods like peanuts and niger seed all the year round. Will they become obese in summer or forget how to find their own wild food?

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    Comment number 9.

    Hi I need some advice, I have a bird feeder outside my window which is on the 4th floor of an apartment building in the centre of Edinburgh. I look over a wooded area and when I first put up the feeder I was getting small blue tits and finches as well as the usual squirrel.
    Unfortunately lately I've been getting pigeons who are so greedy they eat all the seeds in one go and fight over positioning on the feeder which has scared off the small birds. I gave up putting food out for a while to see if I could get rid of the pigeons but they came back. I've also tried to put up a mesh feeder but that got destroyed by the squirrels. I don't mind the squirrels cause their cute but I can't stand the pigeons.
    Any ideas how I can stop pigeons getting to the feeder and seeds?

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    Comment number 10.

    Are Robins frequently seen on seed feeders? I photographed one this morning in my garden taking sunflower hearts from a feeder more usually used by Goldfinches. The photo is somewhere on the flickr group page - no idea where though!

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    Comment number 11.

    Oh dear, still can't do it can you

    Producers; Presenters (apart from Euan that is).

    Here is your challenge for this evenings programme.
    Try saying the following
    1. Van GOGH with the emphasis on the german ich sound, ( see your own website for guidance
    2. Bach as in the composer with emphasis on 'ch' sound again
    3. or like the j in Rioja, the Spanish wine.

    Now try saying LOCH properly please !


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