Baking for Birds
Pile in the lard without feeling guilty! Most of our native garden birds will benefit from tucking into a nutty, seedy lard-cake. There are plenty of recipes to choose from, all of which use natural ingredients.
Salt is very bad for birds, so whatever you do, don’t use the roasted salted variety. Stick to natural unsalted seeds, nuts, dried fruit and finely chopped bacon rind.
Melt some suet or lard in a pan, mix in your chosen ingredients, then simply pour into half a coconut shell. Leave this to set and then hang it where you can see it to enjoy the display of birds.
Different kinds of bird feeder
- Mesh feeders - Fill with whole peanuts (but never during the breeding season when whole nuts can choke baby birds) to attract tits, nuthatches and, if you’re lucky, spotted woodpeckers. Go for wire mesh rather than nylon as birds can get tangled and trapped in these.
- Seed feeders - These are usually made from clear plastic with perches below holes. They attract finches and other seed eaters. You can make your own from an old drink bottle. If you want to catch a glimpse of goldfinches or siskins, you can buy specialist feeders.
- Fat feeders - These are easy DIY birdfeeders. They’re particularly good for the winter and will attract tits in particular. You can buy holders for fat balls (make your own or buy them), refill existing feeders with your own mixture or buy an ornamental feeder that’s ready to go.
- Coconuts - Drain a coconut and break it in half, then hang it from a tree or bracket. Once it’s empty you can fill the shell with fat mixture.
- Seed trays - A simple idea. These are trays that you can attach to the bottom of a feeder to catch any seeds as they fall. They help to keep rats away.
- Cage feeders - Maybe you want to feed the squirrels too, but not from the bird feeder. Along with magpies they can empty a feeder intended for small birds very quickly. To make it more difficult for them to take more than their share, get a feeder surrounded by a cage so only small birds can reach the food. It will also help protect the birds from feathered predators, such as sparrowhawks.
- Hanging feeders - These can be hung these from a tree, a pole in the lawn or from a wall bracket. Make sure cats can’t reach them, either from the ground or via an overhanging branch or fence.
- Ground feeders - Lots of birds prefer to keep their feet firmly on the ground while feeding. There’s more danger from predators there so protection is important. You can buy a ground hopper which can be protected by caging. Make sure there’s no plant cover nearby to prevent a cat ambush.
What to feed which birds
- Live food - Raising chicks is a tough business. Parents need a lot of protein to keep going. You can buy mealworms from suppliers, and these are especially important during spring and early summer. A blue tit will feed hundreds of caterpillars and insects to its chicks during the breeding season. Encourage them in your garden with the right plants.
- Peanuts - Whole peanuts and other hard, dry food can kill young chicks during the spring and summer months. You could crush them – robins and dunnocks among others will enjoy them. Make sure they come from a reputable bird supplier so they don’t contain aflatoxins as these are poisonous to birds.
- Sunflower seeds - An old favourite. Put them in a plastic feeder or on a tray to attract many species all year round. You could also buy sunflower hearts (the bits the birds eat) so there's less mess.
- Seed mixes - A mix is great to target a variety of species, but single seeds or mixes without oatmeal and wheat make better food for specific species.
- Nyjer seed - These are tiny and fall straight out of most feeders. Mix them with other seeds in a plastic feeder or put them on a tray. Finches love nyjer.
- Coconut - Cut a fresh coconut in half, drain and hang it up for tits. Avoid desiccated coconut as this can swell up in birds' stomachs.
- Fats - Crucial to survival. Blue tits, for example, appreciate suet/lard, leftover unsalted bacon rind or grated hard cheese.
- Natural food - Plant the right trees and shrubs in your garden and birds will have supplies throughout the year. Holly and ivy are great for winter berries and woodpigeons, thrushes and blackcaps love them. Stop robins going hungry over the winter by planting some spindle – their berries are a vital source of energy.
Maintaining feeders and timing it right
- Birds can really go hungry during the winter when food and water supplies are scarce. The RSPB and the British Trust for Ornithology both suggest feeding them all year round, but if we’re talking survival, some times are more important than others.
- The RSPB advises that supper and breakfast are the most important meals for birds as they need an energy boost before and after a night’s rest, especially in the winter and autumn when it’s colder.
- Live food is best in spring when birds are raising chicks. Even birds that favour seeds such as finches and siskins enjoy mealworms during the spring, so put them on a tray feeder to help feed the family.
- Keep your feeders clean. Salmonella can kill your garden guests. Use boiling water or buy specialised cleaning products that don’t harm wildlife, but avoid regular detergents.
- It's particularly important to remove old or stale food from a seed tray if you have one.