Bird Food: Feeding and Caring for Birds

For many people, feeding birds in winter is simply a way of bringing life and birdsong into their garden in the darkest time of year, and different types of bird food attract different types of birds.

However, feeding can play a very important role for the birds as they will be getting ready for spring and for having chicks, and they need to be healthy and in good condition for this. Birds are a big help to the gardener too, in that they help keep insects out of the garden that might otherwise do damage.

Cold, wintry weather has a big impact on birds, as their normal bird food supplies may be entirely frozen in very cold weather. This means that the smaller birds especially can’t find any bird food for themselves, making it so important to feed them. A full belly is what keeps every animal warm on the really cold nights. Some experts have pointed out that bird food shortages can occur at any time of year, but winter and early spring are obviously the hardest times for birds.

There is a massive range of bird feed on the market, and the feed you choose depends on the type of birds you want to attract into the garden. If you want a specific bird to come into your garden, you should look for a particular type of bird food. It’s a fascinating topic too, and a great research project for children.

Different birds like different foods. Goldfinches love Nyjer seed, and they are among most people’s favourite birds—people love Goldfinches because of their colour and their beautiful song. The Robin likes peanuts and corn. In Ireland we seem to be a little bit behind in our knowledge of bird feed: I say this because the greater the range of feed material you have, the more birds you attract into the garden. Irish people, however, are inclined to just feed peanuts, as they are a high-fat food. Peanuts, unfortunately, only attract a few types of bird and are very expensive—the other feeds are substantially cheaper. Peanuts become more palatable to smaller birds if they are ground up.

A bird table is important too, as not every visitor is as confident as the Blackbird, who is happy eating on the ground while keeping an eye out for cats!! Smaller seeds are preferred by smaller birds, with the bigger birds able to break up whole nuts and large flake material. Using a feed with a broader composition makes for more interesting and different breeds, and also helps amateur ornithologists recognise social orders—who can drive whom away from the table! That said, most birds vanish if crows or magpies arrive!

A good quality feed will provide a mix of grain sizes and types, hopefully attracting a range of fascinating wildlife to your garden.

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