People have fed wild birds for years simply for their own pleasure, however today it is becoming a necessity due to massive loss of habitat in the wider countryside. Birds have had to retreat back to where there is food — finding hedgerows, nature reserves and privately-owned wildlife-friendly areas — many of which are our gardens. 

Gardens that provide a wide range of natural foods, shelter and water are the best — but they still struggle to support the birds that are attracted to them in the winter. If you are going to commit to feeding wild birds, you must ensure that you will continue to feed them all year round. 

Different birds have different feeding habits. Hanging food is more suitable for members of the tit family, so peanut feeders are ideal. These must be hung high enough so that cats can't reach them. Some people recommend putting your feeders near roses or shrubs that attract caterpillars or greenfly — as the birds will probably eat them too. Make sure that the bird food isn't too exposed so that the birds are protected from sparrow hawks. Provide cover from trees or hedges and keep away from nesting boxes.

Bird tables are suitable for most birds and keep the food off the ground, however some birds do prefer to eat off the ground. When you put food on the ground, keep it well away from shrubs or places that could be hiding a cat, and be careful not to put too much out at once because rodents will soon catch on if there is leftover food in your garden.

Fat balls and nuts can be put into crevices in tree trunks, which will attract birds such as nuthatches and woodpeckers. 

Always have a bird bath available that is filled with fresh, clean water. The water must be shallow so that the birds can drink and bath without the risk of drowning.

What can I feed my wild birds?

You can feed wild birds:

  • A range of seeds (black sunflower seeds are particularly good)
  • Unsalted peanuts
  • Scraps such as pasta or rice (cooked)
  • Raisins and sultanas
  • Boiled potatoes
  • White or brown bread (soaked)
  • Cheese
  • Mealworms
  • Net-free fat or suet balls (these attract a wider range of bird species and are a great energy booster)
  • Fruit such as apples, pears and other soft fruits are popular, especially during the autumn.

When you buy peanuts, make sure they are good quality, fresh and provided in good quality mesh feeders so that chicks can't be fed whole nuts — otherwise they risk choking.

You can also feed your wild birds with mealworms or waxworms — robins and song thrush will be particularly attracted to these.

Seeds and grains can be anything from sunflower seeds, nyjer, millet and oats.

You must never feed your wild birds milk, as their guts are unable to digest it, therefore this can result in stomach upsets and sometimes death.

When do wild birds need extra food?

There are certain times of the year where birds will benefit from being fed. Feeding in spring helps to provide good food for adults while they are on the hunt for insects and grubs for their young. Summertime means harder ground and insects tend to go a bit deeper — meaning that birds find it more difficult to find food. Garden feeding stations are ideal at this time of year. Though winter is the toughest season, bringing freezing conditions, wet weather and stronger winds — so plenty of extra food is important. 

Clean water

Birds need water for both drinking and bathing. Water is very important during winter, when their natural supplies are frozen, and also in the warmer seasons such as spring and summer where water might be harder for them to find. 

Birds do not have the ability to sweat so they don't need as much water as other animals. They do however need to drink around twice a day to replace any water lost through respiration and droppings.

Seed eating birds have a very dry diet so they will need more water than birds who eat insects and other foods which contain water.

Having access to water to bathe in is just as important for birds. It's essential that they keep their feathers in top condition, and bathing in water is a necessity. By wetting their feathers the dirt loosens and they can preen their feather easily. They carefully rearrange their feathers and spread oil from the preen gland so that they stay waterproof and create an insulating layer of air to keep them nice and warm.