Should You Feed Garden Birds All Year Round?

Like many, I have mainly put bird feeders out during the Winter months when it is believed birds struggle the most to find enough food. But what about the rest of the year? As I have become more interested in bird feeding and watching, I have wanted to know if I should feed birds all year round also, when is it best to put out bird feeders? I did some research and this is what I found out.

Quite simply, the answer is YES – we should be feeding birds all year round. Birds can find it difficult to find enough food at any time of year, not only the harsh Winter months. This can be for many reasons; prolonged wet periods, having to find enough food for themselves and their chicks, natural food shortages in the wild. There is more to it that this, though…

When To Put Out Bird Feeders

So, when do birds eat from feeders? All year round. As I mentioned before, food can be hard to find at any time of year for a wild bird so giving them an easy meal when they need it can help boost their survival rate. I have heard from a few people that feeding all year round has increased chick production and bird numbers in their gardens since last year. That can only be a good thing.

You can put out bird feeders at any time. It may take a little while for birds to visit, whilst they wait and watch your feeder to make sure it is a safe place. Once they arrive they are likely to return throughout the year and you will need to keep it stocked up according to demand. Allowing a feeder to run empty too often will force birds to find alternatives.

The key is to provide a year-round, reliable and consistent food source.

Feeding Wild Birds Through The Seasons

Birds have quite specific dietary needs, depending on what they are doing during that season – breeding, moulting and so on. So it is a good to have an idea of what to feed wild garden birds at different times of year.

If you know what a bird needs you can provide them a reliable source of food. If you are able re-charge the feeder when appropriate through the day you can almost time the visits and know when it is best to get your scope out.

What Do Birds Eat In The Summer?

Feeding birds in summer can be fun – you get to spend more time outdoors and see way more activity than you would sheltering from bad weather.

In the summer wild birds will need protein in their diet. This is especially important when they are moulting. Suitable foods include; mealworms, black sunflower seeds, soaked raisins and any good quality seed mix.

I have personally found that mealworms go down a treat with all the Blue Tits, Great Tits, Gold Finches and Robins in my garden – they don’t last long and it can get expensive!

Other summer bird foods can include natural fruits. You can chop up apples and pears but make sure they are soft. Some birds also enjoy grapes and bananas too.

Bird Foods To Avoid In Summer

While we want to do our best for the visitors, we often get it a bit wrong. I am guilty of throwing out scraps of bread and crusts to the garden, thinking I am helping the birds. Maybe the bigger birds like those awful Pigeons will be OK but for smaller birds, larger chunks of bread can choke their young.

For the same reason you should also avoid using whole peanuts and fat when feeding birds through the summer.

Dig Over The Soil

I recommend that from time to time you dig over any soil you may have in your garden. We have a clay soil in our garden that gets very sodden in the winter but really quite hard in the summer. This means that earth worms and other bugs are not as widely available to ground feeding birds, like Black birds and Robins.

I quite often try to dig over the earth in the borders to expose anything useful. Quite often I spot a Robin watching me from just a metre or two away. Once I move away he is straight in there to feed.

If you don’t have soil to dig over, or it is not possible for you to dig what you have, consider putting some mealworms or other bug-rich treats in your feeder.

What To Feed Wild Birds In Winter

During the winter months our bird friends need high energy foods containing a higher fat content. They need to increase and maintain their fat reserves throughout this harsh period.

At the end of Autumn and at the beginning of winter, baby birds will love mealworms and sunflower seeds. If they can find a sustained source of these, they will really flourish.

I recommend using fat balls and suet pellets when it is really cold. It is so easy to make your own and if you have children they really like getting involved then watching the result afterwards.

I have had some really good results using niger seeds. Most times of year are a hit but especially around the colder months. I have a family of seven Gold Finches, who regularly visit in the front garden. Interestingly, they leave the mixed seed in the other feeder in favour of the niger seed.

Sunflower hearts are also a good, protein-rich food to put out through winter and into the new year as winter comes to an end.

What Not To Feed Wild Birds

Many people assume that birds they see in their garden will hoover up most things they throw out. The Pigeons and Jackdaws we get in our garden generally do. Pigeons often remind me of our Labrador dog who’s life revolved around his stomach!

Many smaller birds may also feed on things that are not so good for them. It is important we help them to make better food choices. While they are generally quite picky about what they eat and why, here are some foods you should avoid putting out for the birds.

Bread

I have been reading recently that bread is not the thing to throw out to the ducks on the lake. Firstly, it attracts and encourages rats. Secondly, bread has very little, if any nutritional value to a bird.

Wild birds in our gardens will not be harmed by eating bread but if their little tummies feel full after eating a large quantity of bread, they will stop eating and not get the nutrients, vitamins and general goodness they need. This can lead to vitamin deficiencies.

Salty Foods

Salt is not something that garden birds can process and digest. In larger quantities, salt is actually toxic to some birds. Only use fat from unsalted meats, like bacon and avoid salted meats or other salted foods.

Cooked Porridge Oats

Someone asked me recently if I have fed oats to the birds. To be honest, this is not something I would have considered. However, whilst researching for this post I just found out that uncooked porridge oats are OK to give to birds.

Avoid using cooked porridge oats, as these can become hard over time and prevent the bird from being able to feed properly. Actually, other cereals we eat can also be suitable but be mindful of any salt content.

Cat & Dog Food

Birds like tinned dog and cat food. I did not know this! Our dog never really had wet food; we always gave him dry dog food. I never saw any birds pecking around at any of his food left in the garden, which turns out to be a good thing.

Birds are not usually able to digest dry pet food like the kibble or biscuit type. Avoid using this. If you have any tinned pet food you want to use, go for it but in limited quantities. Oh, this is may attract less welcome, bigger winged visitors.

Stale Food

Probably the most popular and misused bird food is stale bread. Why do we think birds would like stale, gone off food? We need to make sure that any treats, scraps or actual bird food is fresh. Try not to offer stale food and do your best to keep your feeders clean and topped up.

I made the mistake once of leaving a feeder without paying any attention to it. The seed at the bottom of the tube had become soft, stale and compacted. Eventually it began to sprout and became a problem. No wonder the birds were not coming!

Conclusion

Wild garden birds are all around us and need to find food all year round. Birds could experience a food shortage at any time for whatever reason, so we should absolutely get the feeders out all year round.

If you enjoy feeding the birds where you live it is a good idea to get to know what different birds like to eat and why at different times of year. It can be useful to know when they are roosting, breeding or just pure surviving so we can help them to flourish.

It is also important not to feed birds certain foods that can be toxic to them, or just pointless and inefficient.

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