Creating encounters with wildlife for our children can be hard. Wildlife gardening is one of the simplest ways to introduce them to nature. Kids love helping prepare and put out bird food as well as watching the birds arrive and learning to identify them.
To help, here’s what you need to know to identify garden birds, put out the right food to ensure you attract a variety of birds to your garden, make a hanging bird feeder as well as how to enter the Big Garden Birdwatch at the end of January each year or join an ongoing scientific study.
Create a Wildlife Encounter for the Kids
Not my best photography ever (mostly through windows), these photos are all taken in our back garden to show it really is worth making the effort to feed the birds.
Feeding the birds is many people’s first step towards creating a wildlife garden. But where do you start?
Use Different Feeders and Be Patient
To encourage a variety of birds to the garden, use different feeding methods. Adapt the feeders to the size of your garden and be patient if you’ve not fed birds before, they can take a few days to get used to something new in their environment.
How to Feed Wild Birds
Consider the size of your garden; whether you have trees, bushes etc and also if there are local cats. Don’t position feeders where cats can easily get to them.
Wooden bird tables work well with or without roofs, you can even make your own, while a metal bird feeding pole with hooks for different hanging feeders, a water bowl and a flat tray is excellent for feeding multiple species. We also put food on the lawn for ground feeders and sometimes hang fat coconuts in the trees.
We have a window-hanging feeder and it is surprising how many birds are courageous enough to use it so close to the house. They’re a great idea for the housebound and for children to see birds close-up.
Hoping Mr Robin will hop down for some mealworm!
Feed Garden Birds All Year
Many people feed garden birds in harsh winter weather but not everyone knows that the UK’s declining bird populations benefit hugely from year round feeding. Here’s a summary of seasonal variations.
- Ensure a daily supply of fresh water when natural water is frozen
- Wild bird seed, Nyger and peanuts can be bought at most pet shops. Hang them in feeders around the garden. Replenish regularly
- Fat balls and suet feeders provide instant energy in cold weather
- Remove mesh wrappers from fat balls to avoid birds becoming tangled if you can’t find mesh-free fat balls
- Clear snow from an area of grass for ground feeders
- Feeding chicks and fledglings is exhausting so continued feeding is a great benefit for tired parents
- Don’t feed whole peanuts as young birds can choke on them
- Dried and live mealworms are excellent nutritional treats for adults and juveniles alike
- Continue basic seed feeding as food shortages can occur at any time
- Provide fresh water during dry weather
- As per winter, with high fat foods and daily fresh water
- Put out old apples for ground feeders
You’ll get great results from putting out food for the birds. It’s good for them, good for us and excellent for our children’s natural well-being.
Summary – Dos and Don’ts
- Identify your regular bird visitors
- Consider cats and position feeders so cats can’t reach them
- Feed a variety of food according to species e.g. ground or seed feeder
- Use a variety of containers e.g. coconut shell, wire hangers, window feeders
- Feed all year round
- No whole peanuts in spring and summer to avoid young choking
- Always put out fresh water, especially in freezing conditions
- If you have a larger garden put food in different locations
- Maintain feeder hygiene to avoid spread of disease
- Maintain personal hygiene after handling bird feeders
- No mouldy or salty foods
- Beware of pets as raisins can be poisonous to some dogs
- Soak bread in water and feed in small pieces if you must feed it at all
Putting out the right food for your garden visitors means learning which birds you’ve got visiting. To identify garden birds use the RSPB’s handy identifier or British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)’s great video tutorials for identification.
To identify birds by their song, a free App is Birdsong ID. It’s perfect to listen to bird songs to learn them but I’ve personally found its recording and playback function is not ideal. It is best used to confirm a birdsong – Caroline uses it a lot.
Which Birds Eat What in the Wild?
Once you know who’s who, how do you know what to feed them?
Seed Eaters – these birds like seeds of all kinds, small insects, caterpillars etc.
Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Sparrow, Collared Dove
Ground Feeders – these eat worms, slugs, snails, flying insects, fruit (apples), scraps etc.
Blackbird, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Pigeon, Robin, Starling, Thrush, Wren
What to Feed
Nyger seed is great for Finches and Sparrows, requiring a special feeder for the tiny seeds. Our Collared Doves have even learnt to balance the feeder to get at the Nyger!
A no-mess (seeds already hulled), high-energy seed mix is good for general seed-eaters in a standard feeder. A a squirrel-proof hanger or half-coconut shell for fat balls is useful too.
Most people hang peanut feeders but we’ve found the birds shun them in favour of seeds.
A tray can be used for seeds, dried mealworms and household scraps – ours attaches to our feeder stand.
Bread isn’t great for birds. It has little nutritional value and can swell in their stomachs so if you must feed it make sure you have soaked it well and put it out wet and soggy. This goes for ducks too – seeds only please! Read my duck feeding guide here.
Both the RSPB and BTO have lots of detailed information on bird feeding.
To learn how to make our simple coconut shell hanging fat feeder read my post How To Make a Coconut Bird Feeder.
Putting Nyger seed out is the number one way to attract a variety of species, particularly Finches, to the garden so I highly recommend adding Nyger to the menu.
Join a Garden Birdwatch
Now you’ve attracted birds to your garden why not enter the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch which takes place every year at the end of January. You can sign up for a free pack and spend an hour over the weekend of the 27th-29th January 2018 recording what you see. Upload the results online and receive a certificate from the RSPB.
To record your garden birds ALL YEAR ROUND, for an ongoing nationwide scientific study, join BTO’s Garden Birdwatch where you record the birds you spot on a weekly basis. It costs £17 for a year including a quarterly magazine and a free wildlife and bird book. Kids of the Wild are joining this year.
For maximum protection and to help prevent bird flu and other diseases, ensure you disinfect bird feeders regularly and thoroughly wash your own and children’s hands after handling feeders.
Don’t let that stop you feeding the birds. Get feeding and enjoy the closeness of nature in your own garden.
For information on how to hang a bird box in your garden read Love Nests on Valentine’s Day
And don’t forget the ducks. Here’s my Duck Feeding Guide.