If you are new to back garden birding, you may want to take a look through this page. I have put together a list of things you will need to get started.
Some things are essential, while others are things I wish I had known when I first started – products are tips that will make this a whole lot easier, more enjoyable and might even save you money!
Choosing which feeder to buy really depends on which bird seed or food you want to put out. There are many different feeders that are designed with specific food types in mind. For example, smaller holes, different shapes, squirrel resistant.
Things to Consider
- Choosing the correct feeder – match the feeder to the chosen food (or the other way round, depending on which you buy first). This will ensure the best feeding experience for the birds as well as preventing wasted seed and mess for you. If what you have is limited use it anyway, although you should remember – with the incorrect feeder you can expect more mess and for pests to take advantage.
- Dealing with squirrels – squirrel proof feeders are generally quite effective. They all have their own ways of dealing with squirrels from cages to spring loaded mechanisms. Nothing is ever 100% guaranteed, as you will see from user reviews. The ones I recommend below have worked for me. Remember – metal is better than plastic when it comes to deterring squirrels.
- Hanging location – decide where you want to position your feeders. Coconut shells and most manufactured feeders can be hung from tree branches, hook, feeding poles. In the Winter you can see into the trees but come spring they are hidden and you won’t be able to watch the birds. I recommend a simple shepherd’s crook style feeding station for at least two feeders. Top tip – where there are birds there will be mess; wherever your feeders are the ground underneath will change.
These are some of the feeders I would buy if I were starting out again.
Knowing which food birds like will help in the long run and save you from spending money on wasted seed. I have been through the trial and error stage and know what works in my garden. I usually order my bird seed from either a reputable supplier online, such as Vine House Farm or CJ Wildlife. You can use Amazon but it can be a bit hit and miss as to the quality of seed you get. If in doubt check the reviews and make sure the seller is a known brand in this business.
Recommended Bird Food
From my experience, I recommend the following. You will have different birds and a different garden environment to me. These are likely to be successful but in order to save money and see what works for you, maybe start with a few sample sized packs to test the waters. Click the links below to find out more.
Sunflower hearts are a big hit with many birds; they are popular with most tits and some finches, even goldfinches who tend to eat only niger seed in my garden. There is no husk and virtually no waste to be found under the feeder.
Good Quality Premium Seed Mix
If you want to go for a good all round bird seed with a bit of everything, choose a high quality seed mix, like the examples below. A mix of popular seed will likely attract a greater variety of birds to your feeders. Generally a higher quality seed mix contains just seed that birds like – no mess and no filler. I sometimes see great tits being really picky and some just gets thrown out, so some mess is to be expected.
I have found the products below to work really well.
Mealworm can be expensive, probably due to the work involved in cultivating them. The tubs or bags available vary in size – be careful to check the volume you are getting. Quite often the picture on a website looks bigger than it is and you may feel a little cheated! Dried mealworm are VERY popular with robins. I have also seen tits enjoy them.
I am writing this page in May and it is a time of hatching and fledging. Parent birds are not able to feed their hatchlings seed and other dried food, they are actively looking for protein rich soft food, such as grubs, bugs and larvae. A dish of live bird food will really help them out at this time of year. Choose live mealworm or live waxworm. Here are some good examples.
Although they are in the header picture above, I have purposely left out regular sunflower seeds (the type with the black shell). Many people report great success with these and attract a lot of birds. My experience is they don’t attract as many birds as sunflower hearts and a lot of mess is left under the feeder when the husks are discarded.
Once you have birds coming to your feeders you will likely want to actually watch them and, if possible, get a closer view. Here are some of the products I recommend you consider in order to get the best out of your bird feeders.
What I Use
The scope I use is the Celestron 52223 60 mm Zoom 45 Degree Spotting Scope. I didn’t want to spend too much at first and neither do you, unless you want to. I picked this up from Amazon for just £50 a couple of years ago, so look out for whats on offer and buy from a reputable seller. Mine was Maplins, before they folded!
I did some research before I bought the scope; should I get straight or angled? Did I need the greatest focal range for a small back garden, or should I be realistic? You may answer these questions differently, depending on how and where you will use your scope.
I have been happy with this scope – it meets my need perfectly. Sometimes I wish I had gone for a straight scope, just to make it a bit easier to view at certain angles. Mostly, though, the angled scope makes it easier to attach a mobile phone and to look through at most shallow angles.
This scope also comes with a nice aluminium case and a tabletop tripod. The small tripod is great for setting a scope up without the added size of a full height tripod.
Mobile phone attachments are a great way of adding to your scoping experience – using a camera with a scope is called digiscoping.
For digiscoping I use a Universal Cell Phone Adapter Mount – It clamps round the eyepiece of a scope and grips your phone, holding it in place. There are many available for a range of prices. You will quickly see that most are generic, mass produced plastic products They are re branded and sold by many different sellers. Don’t pay more than you have to for something you can pick up less than £10.
Smartphone & Tripod
If you don’t have a scope, or you prefer to make use of a fuller camera angle a smartphone mounted on a tripod is just as good – weather permitting!
I use a Universal Smartphone Holder Mount for Tripods – This is a great little gadget for such little money. It is quite versatile in that the 1/4″ thread should fit a standard tripod. It screws on to my full size tripod and my smaller gorilla grip type tripod. All you do is pull open the spring loaded clamp, slide your phone in and you’re ready to go.
I use this method if the weather is good enough to leave my phone outside for any length of time. I position my tripod close to a feeder and do one of two things:
I either let a movie record for a while (knowing the birds will be back as soon as I leave). Then I review the footage and clip it or take screenshots accordingly.
Or, I use a smartphone app that allows me to view and control my phone remotely. I prefer this method as I can click away when I choose to, instead of spending a long time scrubbing through footage to capture lower quality images from a screenshot.
Using a remote app to control my phone is best. From a laptop indoors I can activate the smartphone camera and use all the best features it has to offer – background blur, filters and so on. I get some of the best photos this way.
I have mentioned tripods quite a bit. When using a spotting scope (and for digiscoping especially), it is essential your scope is held as still as possible. Even the slightest of movements will greatly exaggerate motion seen through the scope. Also, a tripod will support the weight of the scope, so you don’t have to.
I have been using a Miranda Titan TP20 tripod but it is no longer available. The most similar alternative I can find right now is the – AmazonBasics 60-Inch Lightweight Tripod with Bag.
You really don’t need anything flash – just a tripod that is adjustable in as many directions as possible. This one has two adjustments in the legs for additional height (although, most do anyway). It’ll have no trouble reaching up to the height of a feeder on most shepherd’s crook poles. If not, get creative! A decent tripod should be lightweight and easily packed away. The heaviest thing about it will your scope!
If you want to go a stage further and encourage birds to nest in your garden a nesting box is the way to go (bird box, whichever you prefer). Rather than simply offering a safe place to nest, I suggest using a nesting box fitted with a camera. This will enable round the clock viewing of this wonderful spring time event.
I have done a lot of research on this subject and I have decided which nesting box I will be buying later this year. I have to say I like the Green feathers range. There are others but the quality and reputation of these nest boxes is well worth considering.
The option pictured is the Green Feathers Wildlife Wi-Fi Bird Box. It includes a WiFi camera and all that is required is a power socket within reach of the supplied cable and a good WiFi signal where the box is to be located.
I like this configuration because there are less wires to route around the house. Also, a power cable for such a device is usually quite thin. So, it can be routed through a window or through a discrete join or existing hole, without the need to drill more holes in the wall.
Other variations by Green Feathers include a POE connection (only Ethernet cable is required to reach the box) which relies on there being a POE adaptor within range of the cable.
You can also get a camera with video and audio cables running directly from box to TV. That’s a lot of cables! If you have a TV or computer close enough that running three or four cables from the box to the house is an option, it will greatly reduce the price you pay. it may also lessen the quality of the image too.
Something worth remembering, which green feathers have taken care of, is providing sufficient light inside the box. Some bird boxes come supplied with a hole cut in the side, which is covered in clear plastic. This lets light into the box and the image is much better and in colour.
Green Feathers’ solution is a small LED light which comes on in the daytime and goes off at night – see it here. I am a little dubious of this as I am sure the birds like a little bit of dim light to rest in and feel safe. I am assured by Green Feathers the light is as near to natural daylight as possible and has no effect on the nesting birds.
Some nest cams I have seen recently only show black and white images day and night. This is because the night vision feature of the camera is activated due to low light conditions in side the box.
Either solution to the light problem is acceptable – the hole cut in the box is widely used; I just prefer the box to be complete and look nicer. An example is Wildlife World’s Camera Ready Nest Box. They have neatly added a natural light source to the side of the box, which doesn’t look too bad. It also gives you the option of sourcing your own camera to fit inside the box.