Why to feed wild birds?
People have fed birds for many years simply for their own pleasure, but there is more to it than that. The massive loss of habitat in the wider countryside has meant that birds have retreated back to where there is still food - surviving hedgerows, nature reserves and privately owned wildlife friendly areas – of which gardens form the major part.
The best wildlife gardens are those that provide a wide range of natural foods, shelter and water. But even these struggle to support the numbers of birds attracted to gardens in winter. By supplementing their diets with extra food, you are in a way, maintaining a falsely high population of birds in your garden, and once you have started feeding it would be disastrous to them if you stopped as there is simply not the wild food available.
Setting up a bird feeder to feed wild birds can give you a chance to observe wild birds at a closer distance, see different kinds of birds, and learn more about your local birds in an enjoyable way. It's certainly a terrific way to expose your children to the world of birds. It is also a way of helping to sustain wild bird populations, particularly in urban and disrupted environments, provided you feed them the right food.
When to feed
Although winter feeding benefits birds most, food shortages can occur at any time of the year. By feeding the birds year round, you'll give them a better chance to survive the periods of food shortage whenever they may occur.
Winter is not the only time we can help birds by feeding them - feeding between the months
of April and October can also be helpful, as there is a great demand on natural resources
due to the increase in hungry mouths to feed.
Some people prefer not to feed birds in the spring and summer when there is abundant food. However, during migration in the spring, a bird feeder might be a very welcome source of food for a bird that has already come a long way from its wintering grounds and still has a long way to go before reaching its breeding grounds. In the summer, even though there is a lot of food available for birds, their energy requirements are high because they must feed their young.
Rules of feeding
1. Feed regularly: don’t put out lots of feeders and then forget to refill them. Birds can become dependant on a food source during harsh weather.
2. Only use fresh seeds. Do not feed mouldy, wrinkled or wizened seeds.
3. Ensure fresh water is always available for drinking and bathing. An upturned dustbin lid with a stone in it is often all that is required. Be sure to remove the ice in cold weather so that birds can drink.
4. Birds often feed on the ground below a feeder. Make sure that there is no shrubbery nearby that could conceal a cat, and try to keep all feeders at least 5-6 feet above the ground.
5. Remember to wash all feeders and to change the water in the bird bath on a regular basis.
Choosing the bird food
Keep in mind that not all seeds are created equal. Seed is the most common bird food used while feeding wild birds, but choose your seed wisely. Different birds prefer different kinds of seed. For example:
Cardinals, small or large finches, and grosbeaks prefer to stay at the feeder while eating. These birds enjoy black-oil sunflower; small finches prefer sunflower hearts and thistle.
Other birds tend to grab food and eat it away from the feeder; these birds includechickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and woodpeckers, and prefer black-oil sunflower and shelled peanuts split in half (whole peanuts).
Choose white proso millet for ground-feeding birds, such as juncos and sparrows, towhees, and doves.
Watch neighborhoodbird species' behavior to learn which seeds they will prefer.