Although we like to feed the birds all year round it is suggested that priority should be taken for feeding during winter and spring as these are the times when birds need the most help. During the winter months birds rely on their fat reserves to survive the cold, frosty nights and so they need to be eating high energy, high fat foods to maintain this. During winter as natural sources of food get scarce birds begin to look for another source of nutrition and this is where we can help. By leaving out feed for them we can increase their chance of survival during these difficult months.
Which foods can the birds in the garden eat?
Different birds are attracted to different foods for example Blue Tits love peanuts and sunflower seeds where as Robins enjoy grated cheese and crushed nuts. You can easily pick up bird feed mixes from shops that meet the individual needs of each type of bird you have visiting the garden but if like us you want to make bird feeders with your children then here is a list of food that birds can eat.
FruitsFruit has a high water content, is rich in energy and is a great treat for birds during the winter. Birds will happily eat fruit that is whole, sliced or dried and the fruit can be simply left on the bird table, mixed into a fat ball or children may enjoy making a fruit kebab. Blackbirds, robins and thrushes love pears, plums and apples.
PeanutsPeanuts are full of high levels of fat that will give birds some much needed energy and protein. You must never feed salted or dry roasted nuts to birds as they are harmful and if you are in doubt then you can always buy bird friendly peanuts from a pet shop or garden centres. Most birds are capable of shelling a whole nut but if you are trying to attract Robins then it’s worth noting that they only like to eat crushed nuts.
Sunflower seedsSunflower seeds are rich in protein, fats and are a high energy food source. Birds tend to favour the black sunflower seed over the striped one as it has a higher oil content but either type are great to use when making up your own bird feed, bird cakes etc. Greenfinches, blue tits, house sparrows and woodpeckers are all fans of the sunflower seed.
Mild CheeseMild cheese in small amounts is a good fat source for birds and is popular with robins, wrens and dunnocks. Small cubes of cheese can be added onto the fruit kebab bird feeder or grated cheese can easily be added to a bird cake mix.
Oats and cerealsDry cereals and porridge oats are welcomed by all birds but they should only be left out in small amounts. As soon as cereals get wet they turn into a mush which is no good for birds likewise with porridge oats, only uncooked oats should be left out because once cooked they turn glutinous which can stick and dry to the birds beak.
Cooked rice and pastaCooked rice and pasta that has had no salt added to it is safe for birds to eat. Cooked rice and chopped pasta can easily be added to any bird mix that you make or left out on a bird feeder.
CoconutFresh coconut in the shell is a nice treat for the birds and once all the coconut is eaten you can recycle the empty shell by filling it with a fat/seed mixture. You must never give birds desiccated coconut because once digested it will swell inside the birds stomach and can cause death.
How should I feed the birds in the garden during winter?
All of the above ingredients can simply be left out on a bird table or because we are now going into the colder months they can be mixed with lard or suet to make a nutritious winter birdseed cake or fat ball. You must never use the fat from cooking because the meat juices blend with the fat and once it is set it can easily smear the birds feathers which is not good for them. Lard and beef suet are fine to use because they re-solidify.
Birds have their own feeding patterns but it is advisable to make sure that there is food available at dusk and dawn and to reduce the risk of food going mouldy it is best to not to leave out too much in one go. As well as food, birds need daily access to clean fresh water so if you do have a bird bath then making sure it is filled up is really beneficial for the birds.
Simple bird feeders to make with children
Pumpkin bird feeder
This is a great way to recycle any old leftover pumpkins from Halloween and both birds and squirrels will love this late autumn snack. We filled one of our pumpkins with a birdseed mix and pushed sticks through the sides to create perches for the birds. We then secured string around it so that it could be hung up. However in hindsight with all the rain we are getting I should have left the lid on and made the hole of the mouth bigger for birds to fly in and out.
Pine cone bird feeder
This is a good bird feeder to make with young children as they can get stuck in and help squish and mix the lard/seed mixture together. If you cannot get a large pine cone you can easily make fat balls or bird cakes out of this mixture.
What you need:
- 1 large pine cone
- string or ribbon
- 1 stick of lard at room temperature
- mixture of nuts,seeds, fruit and/or birdseed
All you need to do is attach the string around the top of the pine cone to make a loop. Then in a large bowl add all the nut/seed mixture with the lard and squish it all together until it is well combined. Then you pat the mixture all over the pine cone and once covered leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours to harden.
Bird feed kebab
Making bird feeder kebabs are a great way of using up scraps of food that you have in the kitchen. We used a combination of left over pumpkin, apple and some dry Weetabix to make our kebab and threaded it onto some string using a practice needle. A similar and easier activity for younger children would be threading cheerios onto a pipe cleaner and then hanging it on a tree.
We hope you have enjoyed this post and please share with us on social media your own home made bird feeders.