Some hang fat balls on the branches near their windows; others scatter grains in their gardens. Bird experts are divided on whether or not we should actually be feeding wild birds. But if you are going to feed feathered friends in your garden, here’s what to know.
Those who want to feed the sparrows, tits and other feathered friends that visit their gardens should make sure they are not doing more harm to the creatures than good. Here are five tips on how to get it right.
The right food
Different birds have different palates. Grain feed is popular with tits and other classic grain consumers. Robins, on the other hand, mostly eat insects, so their feed should ideally contain meal worms or similar animal-based ingredients. Blackbirds have a taste for fruit, and sunflower seeds go down well with many common species.
The food itself should never be left to go mouldy and shouldn’t smell stale. It’s also important to consider that not everything which birds will eat is good for them; some things can even harm them.
“This includes spicy and salty foods,” says Kristina Bergerhausen from the German Animal Welfare Federation, based in Bonn. Other leftovers, baked goods and sweet things are also better left off the menu.
Be careful with fat balls
Fat balls in nets are often a hazard, as small birds can get tangled up and stuck in them. Bird lovers should either stick to balls without nets, remove the nets after purchasing, or make the balls themselves.
It’s easier than you might think: just melt 300 grams of vegetable fat or good-quality animal fat, add a little plant-based oil and stir in 500 grams of oats, 100 grams of wheat bran and 500 grams of sunflower seeds. Then shape into balls, cool, and leave out for your feathered friends!
The right location
“For some species, having to feed on the ground is stressful,” says Andreas Frei, a veterinarian based at the Walsrode World Bird Park in eastern Germany. The nuthatch and tit prefer a raised feeding platform, while blackbirds actually prefer to gather their food from the ground.
For this reason, bird lovers should vary their feeding locations. Adding a collar to feeding stands will keep cats and other predators away, and those who have a spacious garden can avoid competition between birds by using several different feeding stations.
Don’t forget water
On icy (or dry) days, it can be difficult for wild animals to find water sources. “It’s a good idea to put out a fresh water source for birds as well as food,” suggests Frei. This is especially important during the coldest (or hottest) months.
Birds baths quickly become contaminated by animals’ excretions, so it’s important to change the water frequently and clean out bowls or dishes on a regular basis.
Make your garden bird-friendly
Those who want to keep wild birds happy should think about designing their whole garden so it’s bird-friendly. “Fruit-bearing shrubs like hawthorns, elderberries, sloes, wild cherries and fruit trees will feed birds well from spring to autumn,” says Florian Eiserlo from the Hamburg branch of animal protection organisation Vier Pfoten.
Compost heaps, bird hedges and old wood stacks are helpful to birds as they house lots of species of insects. Experts also recommend raking fallen leaves into heaps under bushes and hedges during the autumn months, providing an ideal spot for robins, blackbirds and thrushes to hunt for their supper. – dpa/Maria Berentzen