May Newsletter from The Really Wild Bird Food Company at Street End Farm
Attracting Birds Into Your Garden.
Most garden birds are essentially woodland birds, attracted to the cover of trees and vegetation.
Supplementary feeding can't provide all the natural proteins and vitamins that adult and young birds need, so it is important to also try to create a garden which provides a rich supply of natural foods. Planting a range of native UK shrubs, trees and climbers (e.g. Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Hazel, Common Dogwood, Alder, Wild Privet and Crab Apple – to name but a few!) will produce berries, seeds, fruits and nuts, nectar and pollen as well as shelter, nesting sites and nesting materials.
Create some mini beast motels by leaving a few rotting log piles in a shady spot, bundles of sticks made into wigwams, and broken clay flowerpots can be piled into a cairn to mimic a dry stone wall. Leaving an area of grass un-mown or just leaving a 'messy', uncultivated area somewhere, will increase the insect population in the garden and offer vital food sources for garden birds. This will help you attract more birds into your garden.
Providing a constant supply of clean drinking water will also help to attract more birds to your garden. This becomes most important for some species when dry weather affects the supply of their preferred foods.
Blackbirds and Thrushes would ideally feed earthworms, snails and slugs to their young, but dry weather drives these food sources deep underground and makes adults more dependent on foods you put out for them, which unfortunately don't have such high moisture content. Birds don't sweat but they lose water via respiration and their droppings, and most small garden birds need to drink at least twice a day to replenish lost water. Seed-eating birds, such as finches and tits particularly require clean water to be available since the seeds they eat are dry. Most small birds drink by sipping and throwing their head back to swallow. Pigeons and doves just immerse their beaks and drink.
During the freezing days of winter, it is equally important to supply clean fresh drinking water, but avoid the use of salt, glycerine or anti-freeze since these are all toxic to garden birds.
A clean water supply also offers a necessary bathing opportunity- an important part of feather maintenance. Bathing loosens feather dirt and makes preening easier.
During the act of preening, birds spread oil from their preen gland which allows them to remain waterproof and trap an insulating layer of air underneath their feathers.
Providing water at varying depths of between 1 and 4 inches will allow more garden birds to take a dip! A bird bath with a rough surface and shallow sloping sides will facilitate this. Some species, such as Starlings like to make a real splash by bathing in large groups.
Birds will only use a bird bath if they feel safe. They get excited and pre-occupied about bathing and wet birds don't fly well. This makes them most vulnerable. So where possible, locate your bird bath close to cover which will provide protection from predators. Small trees or shrubs are ideal. It is best to use tap water or fresh water from a water butt to top-up your bird bath. You may find that algae will build up (along with leaves and droppings), and this should be regularly cleaned with a stiff brush and some dilute disinfectant such as Ark-Klens*
Birds also need to feel safe when feeding. Feeders placed close to spiky bushes (such as Pyracantha, Blackthorn, Cotoneaster) will offer cover from Sparrow hawks; this poor pigeon was not so lucky! However try to maintain at least a 6ft gap between cover and birdbath to allow birds to see approaching cats.
Natural bird food is in shortest supply during the months of May and June particularly during wet, cold days when insect populations are low. Food availability in May and June can be crucial in determining how many chicks survive to fledge. At this time, supplementary moist, high protein food (such as live mealworms and waxworms) will help adults to sustain fledglings in the nest and you will find that during these months the food you put out will disappear at an amazing rate!
It is important however, that in the later months (particularly August, September and October) when the weather is warmer and natural foodstuffs are in abundance that you don't let unwanted food languish in feeders and on feeding stations. Monitor how much food is being eaten and if it takes days to clear, reduce the amount of food you're offering. This is a good time to completely empty and clean feeders, and only put out what is consumed in a couple of days. It is also worth considering your feeding stations if the weather is wet. Wet, uneaten peanuts, fat products and seed will all go mouldy if left damp in a feeder and definitely won't attract your garden birds. We recommend that damp foodstuffs should be replaced no less frequently than weekly, but if there is any mould apparent then it should be discarded.
Hygiene is of utmost importance when feeding garden birds: both for the birds and for you, and this cannot be over emphasised. To reduce faecal contamination and disease spread, regularly clean, disinfect and move feeders, seed trays, feeding stations, bird tables and bird baths. Sweep or scrape bird table surfaces daily and regularly clean up areas underneath feeders, particularly when black sunflower seeds are being fed as the sunflower husks do pile up. This will also help to reduce the chances of unwanted rats and mice visiting! If the ground is heavily contaminated, scrape up and burn the rubbish and disinfect the area. Having several feeding stations in the garden will reduce over-crowding and faecal contamination, and will help reduce disease build-up.
Some of the bacterial diseases of garden birds can be transmitted to humans, so we recommend that you wear rubber gloves whilst cleaning. Use dedicated utensils, wash your hands thoroughly afterwards, and don't clean your feeders in areas where you will prepare food i.e. the kitchen! Undoubtedly the best 'easy-clean' feeders on the market are the Onyx* Feeders and the Ring-Pull* feeders both of which provide an easy, hassle free solution to the problem of getting tube feeders really clean.
To attract and nourish a wide variety of garden birds, try offering a range of different food types in a variety of different types of feeder.
Try to make food available first thing in the morning, since this is when garden birds replace vital energy stores which were used up overnight. In severe weather also replenish foods in early afternoon to provide nourishment before dusk. Our seed mixes are a way to provide maximum nourishment from a single bag of seed, and because we include a large variety of different seeds in our mixes which are grown and produced on our own farm, you improve your chances of satisfying a variety of different species and enticing them back time after time! For more information on feeding garden birds – what, where and how, please see our Feeding Guide Page (which will follow shortly).
With special thanks to Stephen Baldwin and Pete Berry for photographs.
Many thanks for your custom, and as always, please keep in touch and let us know how we are doing – we value all your comments.