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As the days turn cold, the threats that our feathered friends face increase. The food is scarce during the winter and sustenance during these times is a big issue for them. The birds need to struggle, not only for food but also for making it through the chilly season.

So where do we stand in helping our wild birds survive during these harsh conditions? Small measures by us can do their bit in helping the birds pull through the difficult times. These small measures by us can easily attract the birds to the gardens and help them to a great extent during the chilly days. But is your garden attractive enough to the wild birds?

As we know natural food is scarce during the wet and the cold days as the insect population is less. So it is important to try and create a garden which provides a rich supply of natural foods. The supplementary moist and high protein food will help the adults survive and subsequently sustain fledglings in the nest in the spring. Planting a range of native UK shrubs, trees and climbers will produce berries, seeds, fruits and nuts, nectar and pollen and will also serve as a shelter for the birds with nesting sites and nesting materials.


By simply leaving a few rotting log piles in a shady spot or an area of grass un-mown and messy will help a great deal in increasing the insect population in the garden. This tends to be a vital food source for garden birds which will help in attracting more birds into the garden.

During the freezing days it is important to supply clean fresh drinking water as the birds need to replenish their lost water. But obviously the use of salt, glycerine or anti-freeze should be avoided!

The more the variety of food, the more will be the variety of garden birds. So try offering a range of different bird food types in a variety of different types of bird seed feeders as the eating habits of different birds are different.

Apart from the early mornings, you will also need to restock food in the early afternoons to provide nourishment before dusk since birds need extra energy during the winters as they flap their wings in order to keep warm.

With these small yet vital measures of bird care, you can easily improve your chances of satisfying a variety of different species and enticing them back to your garden time after time!

Avian Pox
Avian Pox is a relatively new (and emerging) disease in the UK, which seems to be increasingly identified in garden birds. The disease is caused by an AviPox virus - a thick walled virus. The virus causes two types of disease – a dry ‘cutaneous’ (skin) form which stimulates excessive skin growth and nodular warty lesions. This type of pox infection is most commonly seen in our garden birds. The other ‘wet’ form of the disease, is more commonly seen in domestic chickens and turkeys, where the virus infects the mucous membranes of the digestive and respiratory tracts. This electron micrograph of a pox virus, shows how thick walled the virus is. This thick wall enables pox viruses to be extremely resistant to environmental factors (such as disinfectants), and the virus survives and multiplies really well in dry conditions. This is why Pox lesions are seen more commonly in the summer months than the winter.


It would seem that currently Great Tits are more predisposed to Avian Pox infection than other UK garden birds however lesions have been recognised in Dunnocks, Wood Pigeons, Blue Tits, and I have also seen Blackbirds with Pox lesions.

In most other species, the virus will cause mild lesions, usually on the featherless areas - the legs and around the eyes and beak. Often seen as bald/scaly patches, or pinky/grey plaques, these birds often mount an immune response to the virus and survive the infection.


However in Great Tits, extensive wart-like nodules can develop, which can then impede their ability to fly, feed, breathe or even to see. If these birds can continue to feed, it is possible for them to recover, and they are left with only minor scars. In severe cases, the birds may not survive.
The virus seems to invade the bird via abraded skin and mucous membranes- either from infected perches and feeding stations or possibly through biting flies, which again, are more common in the summer months.
Because it is a relatively resistant virus, (due to its protective wall) it can survive on contaminated perches and feeding stations (particularly in dry summer months) for a considerable time – infecting a number of birds in one garden.


Avian Pox virus does not seem to be infectious to humans, however if you have to handle infected birds, do make sure you wear gloves and follow the hygiene measures which I have written about.
Whilst the larger, more prominent Pox lesions are distinct, it may be worth remembering that smaller, less obvious lesions may be other things such as injury scars or tick infestations, as can be seen in this accompanying photo of a Reed Warbler infected with a tick. The tick will fill with blood and drop off spontaneously.


Because this disease seems to be spreading within UK garden birds, there are a number of groups studying the incidence of cases and the spread of the disease. If you do find Pox infected birds in your garden, please call RSPB Wildlife Enquiries on 01767 693690 and help them to track what is happening in the UK.
And one last request from me........ if you do see infected birds (with Pox virus or any other disease/malaise), I would be really grateful if you could take photographs and send them to me. I will use them to put together a library for my vet pages, and for each photo I use, I will send a £5 gift voucher to spend with us.

With sincere thanks to Liz Cutting for the use of her photographs. www.lizcuttingphotos.com

Trichomoniasis

Like Avian Pox, Trichomoniasis is a relatively new and emerging disease affecting British Garden Birds.

However unlike Avian Pox virus infection, garden birds which become infected with the Protozoal parasite (called Trichomonas gallinae ) will not usually survive. The parasite survives in moist conditions, needs water to survive and will be killed by dessication.

A photomicrograph of two Trichomonas protozoa parasites can be seen here.


Trichomoniasis, (or ‘Canker’ as the disease is also known), was a significant problem for pigeons and doves in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. A school boyfriend of mine (many years ago now!), had racing pigeons that suffered an outbreak of Canker which had a dramatic effect on their health. The pigeons suffered with nasty necrotic (cheesy) ingluvitis- which is an inflammation of the crop and oesophagus.

Fortunately, effective in-water antibiotics were quickly developed in response to this new disease, and nowadays it is less commonly diagnosed. However it is still seen in Game birds and Poultry.

For some unknown reason the parasite then jumped host group to have a dramatic effect on the UK wild finch population. Although Greenfinches are most frequently affected by T. gallinae infection in garden environments (and Chaffinches somewhat less so), the reasons for this are not clear.


The Greenfinch is one of the species most frequently affected by other infectious diseases that are commonly diagnosed in garden birds, such as Salmonellosis and Colibacillosis (Lawson and Cunningham, unpublished data). It may be that the gregarious and seed-eating habits of finches, sharing food and water at feeding stations, with high contact rates, are likely to facilitate pathogen spread. Trichomoniasis, however, is confirmed much less frequently in other sociable and flocking garden birds ,so feeding behaviour is unlikely to be the sole driver of Greenfinch susceptibility.

The disease was first recorded in a British finch in April 2005. Small numbers of dead finches were reported throughout 2005, but then the disease exploded in 2006 and 2007 as infection spread and the British public reported their findings;


fluffed up, lethargic finches (mainly Green finches and Chaffinches, but also a few Collared doves and wood pigeon also succumbed to the parasite, and at that time, the only other species in which the condition was diagnosed were House Sparrows (9 cases), Yellowhammers (4 cases),
Dunnocks ( 3 cases) and Great Tits ( 2 cases )
Prior to this epidemic of Trichomoniasis, low levels of finch mortality due to Salmonellosis were recorded annually, with the peak occurring during the months of December and January, however this new disease significantly increased mortality and in some areas 35% of Greenfinches and 21% Chaffinches died. When you consider that there are approx. 4million Greenfinches in gardens in the UK, the total number of deaths was huge.

The inability to swallow causes excessive saliva to build up and birds have wet facial and chest plumage. Many also have difficulty breathing and are emaciated.


Laboratory examination of these dead birds usually shows a necrotic mucosal ulceration of the crop and oesophagus area. The photograph on the right hand side is unpleasant to look at but it does highlight just how significant the pathology is when these birds become infected. No wonder they cannot swallow- poor things.

Although we have quantified the occurrence of Trichomonas gallinae in dead birds, the overall prevalence ( i.e how many birds in the UK are infected) remains unknown. Prospective studies to screen multiple species of live birds for the parasite would help address this knowledge gap- but this is unlikely ever to be possible.

The Trichomonas gallinae parasite survives and thrives in still moist conditions (such as bird baths, wet bird tables) and will be destroyed by dessication ( drying out).


It lives in the upper digestive tract and therefore the most likely way that it is spread between birds is via saliva. This can be direct spread during courtship and when infected adults feed their young, and indirectly, via saliva-contaminated water and food.

If you see diseased finches or find a dead bird in the garden, my advice would be to stop feeding for at least 14 days and preferably 21 days. Bird baths should be emptied, scrubbed and left dry. Similarly with bird feeders, tables etc. People worry about stopping feeding, but if dirty bird baths and feeders are allowing the parasite to continually infect healthy garden birds, then the disease will continue to circulate.

Please see my section on health and hygiene for more specific control measures.

Salmonellosis

Salmonella species are rod-shaped bacteria which are zoonotic. That means that they can spread from animals or birds to infect humans. There are approximately 2,000 strains of Salmonella spp in existence, and humans, domestic and wild animals, and domestic and wild birds can all become infected with certain strains of Salmonella spp. Not all strains can infect all species, but there are Salmonella strains which can be transferred from one species to another and cause disease in both. It is all quite complicated!


The most commonly isolated stains of Salmonella in wild birds in the UK (identified as a result of the submission of dead birds to UK Veterinary laboratories) are those of Salmonella Typhimurium, strains DT40, DT56 and DT160. A large scale study of garden bird mortality which was conducted in England and Wales between 1993 and 2003 (before Trichononiasis was recognised), identified Salmonella Typhimurium as the main pathogen isolated, and the majority of deaths due to Salmonella occurred during the winter months.
Flocking birds such as Greenfinches, Chaffinches and House Sparrows seemed to be most commonly affected, and interestingly, male Greenfinches were much more frequently diagnosed with Salmonellosis than female ones!


The Salmonella organisms invade the digestive tract of wild birds.

They can cause ulceration of the crop and oesophagus and severe inflammation of the intestines – leading to diarrhoea. The bacteria are present in large numbers in infected droppings and these are the source of contamination for uninfected birds. Infected birds will look puffed up and often will just sit on the ground or on feeding perches – failing to respond to danger. Interestingly, birds will often continue to eat, despite being severely ill. Obviously the risk of transmission is greatest where large numbers of birds gather at communal roosts or feeding sites, and poor hygiene at feeding stations can facilitate an outbreak.


While most infected birds die, some do not show any symptoms and can act as carriers. Salmonella bacteria are fairly hardy and can survive in the environment for some time.

This path photo shows a Siskin which died of Salmonella typhimurium D56. It was one of 30 birds which died in a single garden over a 30 day period. You can see really nasty and extensive necrotic ulcers in the crop. Other birds had severe haemorrhagic enteritis. Because droppings are the source of infection, the best way therefore to prevent an outbreak of Salmonella is to prevent faecal contamination of the water and food being offered.


Because there is a real zoonotic risk with Salmonella typhimurium it is very important to take care to exercise good personal hygiene when cleaning feeders and water containers and when handling sick or dead birds it is imperative that you wear disposable gloves, and ensure thorough washing of hands and arms. Prevention is always better than cure and following 'Best Practice' feeding guidelines will help you prevent disease occurrence in your garden.


The guidelines are the same for any organism under consideration;
Ensure good feeding hygiene - clean and disinfect feeders and clear up uneaten food and droppings
Provide clean drinking water and clean bird baths on a daily basis
Move feeding stations and split your daily offering into a number of separate feeding areas to reduce contamination build up
Offer high quality food and don’t over-supply food- feed to demand.

If you have photographs of diseased garden birds, which you have taken yourself, and you would like to send me, please email me at vet-query@reallywildbirdfood.co.uk. I will use them to put together a library for my vet pages, and for each photo I use, I will send a £5 gift voucher to spend with us.

Many thanks!

Lesley



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.

When Bird baths are an artificial pool or shallow basin filled with water, which is made for birds to bathe in, cool off and…unlike for humans!…drink the bath water. Bird baths provide a safe place for wild birds to bathe as birds require bathing to keep feathers clean and flexible and to maintain their skin healthy.


A bird bath provides a reliable source of water for birds and encourages wild birds into your garden.. in the summer to take bath and in the winter to drink ice free water. Hopefully the bird bath will be safe from predators.

A good looking bird bath makes a wonderful feature in any garden and draws a variety of entertaining birds to your garden.

Several types of bird baths are available in varies shapes and sizes and in different materials like the cast iron bird bath, stone bird bath, concrete bird bath and the plastic bird bath. At The Really Wild Bird Food company we provide a wide range of bird baths (link to http://www.reallywildbirdfood.co.uk/bird-baths-and-drinkers/garden-bird-baths-10-36/) to suit almost every requirement.

A good bird bath should be simple, and light enough to make it easy to clean and refill. The surface of the bath should be rough allowing birds to grip it with their claws without slipping.

Position your bird bath in your garden where a bird can easily see any predator and near to trees where a bird can survey the area before landing to use the bird bath.

To use it to attract birds to your garden, a bird bath must be kept full of clean water. Cleaning your bird bath every few days is essential to the health and safety of birds that use it. Also keep your bird bath free of unsightly stains and smells. The benefits of bird baths are well worth the effort it takes in keeping them clean, filled, placed safely and picking the right one.

More About Helping Birds Survive & Thrive


Helping garden birds to survive and thrive is about creating a garden that your birds and other wildlife can appreciate and enjoy all year round. Thriving bird populations are a sure sign that we are creating a healthy and sustainable living environment. What we offer in our gardens is so important because the total acreage of gardens in the UK is huge - it actually exceeds that of all UK Nature Reserves put together! There are lots of things we can do to support our wild birds. This article will focus on feeding garden birds.


The best way to provide the supplementary energy and nutrients which your garden birds rely on, and to maximise the number of different species of garden bird visiting your garden, is to provide a variety of high quality food types, offered in a range of different feeders, at a number of locations throughout your garden. Then there is something for everyone to eat and pure enjoyment for you as you support a thriving bird population right on your doorstep!


Garden birds do have preferences for where and how they feed. Birds such as Chaffinches, Robins, Dunnocks, Thrushes, Blackbirds and Wagtails really like to have their feet on the ground. However new innovations like simple perch rings for seed feeders, act as a platform for feeding birds and make it much easier for Robins and Chaffinches to scale the heady heights of hanging feeders! Clinging birds like the Tit family and Great Spotted Woodpecker love to hang on to a feeder and birds like Greenfinches and Sparrows are happiest perching. So offering different feeder types is a really good thing to do.

What food you offer will also, to some extent, be determined by, e.g. the season and the climate. During the breeding season, when birds are feeding young chicks, food which is high in protein, such as live mealworms and waxworms will be of most benefit to the young offspring. Adults will feed their young before they feed themselves, so if live foods are in short supply, the adults tend to offer these to the chicks and they will fall back on available seeds. Sunflower hearts are a really good choice in this situation, since they are high in oil and offer an immediately available source of energy because they don't require de-husking which takes up valuable time; maximum energy with minimum effort!


During the freezing winter days, where small birds like Blue Tits and Long Tailed Tits can spend up to 85% of daytime feeding just to survive, high quality fat products, like suet pellets and fat blocks will offer the highest supplementary heat supply. And did you know that Great Tits change the shape of their beaks according to the feeding season? In summer, Great Tits prefer a soft, insect based diet – which doesn't require much chewing, however in the winter, when their diet becomes predominately seed – based, their bill becomes thicker, shorter and stronger to cope with cracking the seeds.

So which foods should you put out? There are 6 main food types which make up the basic staple offering for garden birds: A high quality seed mix, sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet products, live mealworms and niger seed And please remember, a fresh clean supply of drinking water is absolutely essential.

However it is also essential that the seeds you offer are of the highest quality and cleanliness. This will make them more palatable. Here, on our own farm, we grow as many of the seeds as we can, and we double clean seed to minimise dust and debris and maximise palatability. Supplying fresh seed is also really important. Birds won't want to eat stale seed that has been in a bag, on a shelf (or a feeder) for months. Here, on our farm, we can guarantee that the seed you purchase from us has been prepared and bagged within a couple of weeks of you receiving it – beautifully fresh and straight from our farm!

And not many other bird food companies can make that statement. It is also important to remind you that not all bird seed mixes are the same! When selecting a seed mix to chose one with high quality ingredients. Seeds fall into two categories – high oils seeds and cereal grains. Some wild birds, such as house sparrows, yellowhammers, chaffinches and reed buntings are lovers of the cereal grains. Cereal grains would include wheat, barley, naked oats, millet, canary seed and maize. In years gone by, when sparrows were in huge numbers in the UK, they could decimate large areas of wheat fields on farms by stripping the wheat. Nowadays, it is large pigeon numbers we have to contend with as sparrow populations have dwindled. Pinhead oatmeal (which is finely chopped groats – the kernel of an ordinary oat) has a high fibre and vitamin content and is extremely popular with many garden birds.

You shouldn't really expect to find barley grains in the seed mixes you buy, however yellowhammers and chaffinches do love barley and we have superb flocks of them here on the farm when there is barley lying in the fields. There are very many poor quality wild bird seed mixes available, especially supplied by shops and garden centres. These have a high % of wheat and maize in them – used as relatively cheap bulking agents. If you do feed a mixed seed which contains a lot of wheat or maize, you will find that you will be inundated with larger birds such as pigeons, doves and pheasant (if you are near open countryside) and jays, rooks and jackdaws. These bigger birds will dominate feeding areas and will prevent the smaller garden birds from feeding. Other cheap 'filler' ingredients such as split peas and beans as well as bits of dog biscuit are also found in cheaper bird seed mixes. None of these should be fed to garden birds so avoid purchasing these mixes.


High quality seed mixes will contain a good % of nutritious, high oil seeds like black sunflowers and sunflower hearts, peanut granules, oil seed rape and niger seed. Interestingly, although naked oats are a cereal grain, they do have a very high oil content – and this probably explains why they are so popular. For general, day to day feeding, seed mixes which contain a good blend of the oil seeds and cereals grains will provide daily sustenance. During periods of high stress, such as extreme cold weather or feeding youngsters, garden birds will benefit from being offered a diet, higher in oil seeds- be they straights, such as sunflower seeds or within a high energy seed mix.


The type of feeders you use will, to some extent be determined by the food you are offering. Most commonly, seed mixes and sunflower seeds are offered in hanging tube feeders. The common garden birds which use this type of feeder are Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Sparrows, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and Siskin. Finches will typically stay at a feeder perch while feeding, whereas Tits will usually repeatedly visit the feeder and take away individual seeds to eat them in a nearby tree or bush.


Niger seed and Thistle seed are two fine small seeds loved by Goldfinches and Siskin. Thistle seed comes from the Teasle plant which grows wild in the UK. It is a biennial plant and it is therefore difficult to cultivate and harvest large quantities, making the teasle/thistle seed incredibly expensive to buy. You can often spot goldfinches feeding on wild teasle plants at roadsides. Niger seed is a more affordable alternative. It is a tiny, fine black seed, related to the sunflower seed, and grows in Ethiopia as the Ramtil plant. It has to be fed from a special niger seed feeder, which has tiny 'slit' feeding holes instead of normal seed ports. Seed ports would allow Niger seed to pour out onto the ground. Goldfinches and Siskin have extremely pointed bills which allows them to access the Niger seed in the special feeders. Whilst other finches, like Greenfinches, Bullfinches etc. do enjoy the taste of niger seed, the size and shape of their bills makes accessing the niger feeders nigh impossible!

 


Peanuts on the other hand require a steel mesh feeder since the mesh prevents garden birds such as Nuthatches and Coal Tits taking whole peanuts and hoarding them! The mesh offers a clinging area and means that birds like Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, House Sparrows, Tits and Siskins just peck at the peanuts. A 6mm mesh size is optimal; large enough to prevent beak damage, yet small enough to hold the peanuts back.


Peanuts are rich in fat, and must be 'nil detectable' aflatoxin rated. Aflatoxins are toxins produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus that can affect peanuts and will be harmful for garden birds if ingested. The fungus develops if peanuts are transported or stored in hot and humid conditions. All the peanuts we supply here at Street End Farm have been rigorously tested to ensure they are 'nil detectable aflatoxin' rated. Please note that salted or dry roasted peanuts are also not suitable for your garden birds.

 


Soft-food feeders, for seed mixes with a high percentage of peanut granules ( see our Deluxe Robin Crumble) and mealworms, are mainly used by cheeky Robins, but you may find Blackbirds and some Tits recognise something tasty in the dish. Very occasionally a brave Wren or a Pied Wagtail may hop up onto a soft food feeder for some mealworms. These feeders usually have a 'roof' element to keep the rain off and prevent the peanut granules from becoming soggy.


These types of foods cannot be used in tube feeders for this very reason – they get clogged up. Live Mealworms, which are the larvae of the flour beetle (Tenebrio molitor) are 48% protein and 40% fat and can be used to feed birds throughout the year, however it is important that any mealworms fed to birds are fresh. Dead or discoloured mealworms should not be fed since they can cause problems such as Salmonellosis. Feed live mealworms from a shallow, steep sided dish – such as a ramekin dish, if you don't have a bespoke mealworm feeder.

Hanging feeders for suet pellets, suet blocks and fatballs are becoming ever more popular. It is mainly the Tit family which visit the fat feeders, and Long Tailed Tits in particular will arrive in families to feed on tasty fat products.


Again it is important to supply really good quality fat for maximum energy. We recommend that you remove any nylon mesh from fatballs or peanuts since they can trap tits by their legs and woodpeckers by their barbed tongues. Although we do still sell fatballs with mesh, (for customers without fatball feeders), our sales ratio of un- netted to netted is nearly 10:1 – so most customers now chose the safer option for their birds.


Another great way to help feed garden birds like Treecreepers, Firecrests, Great Spotted Woodpeckers etc , is to fill the bark holes in tree trunks with softened suet containing insects, mealworm and peanut granules- delicious!


For those birds that prefer ground feeding (such as Dunnocks, Blackbirds. Thrushes, Robins and Wrens), there are a variety of options available. The foods they love include black sunflower seeds, pinhead oatmeal, rolled naked oats, soaked sultanas and raisins, mild grated cheese, mealworms, and soft apples, pears, bananas and even grapes. You can simply scatter food on the ground for them, or a range of low level 'table type' ground feeders are available. With both these methods, ground feeder guardians are effective in preventing the larger (and sometimes less welcome) birds like pigeons, jays, magpies, crows, etc from hogging the feeder and eating all the food! It is important when ground feeding to 'feed to demand' and don't have uneaten food left over since this will attract rats. To reduce disease build up, try also to move the feeding area from place to place. A note of caution; raisins and sultanas are nephrotoxic to dogs and cats (can damage their kidneys), so please don't allow them to 'hoover' up the ground feed. And finally, of course, many ground feeding birds will happily land on a bird table they feel safe on as this Treecreeper is showing.

 

For tips on how to manage feeding birds in the present of problematic squirrels, please see our page on deterring squirrels.
With special thanks to Stephen Baldwin and Pete Berry for photographs

Grey squirrels are a bit like marmite - you either love them or you hate them! Some people really enjoy watching the antics of squirrels as they raid the bird feeders and try to outsmart our inventive ideas for outsmarting them! However, more often than not, people ask us for advice about how to stop squirrels (and also larger birds to a lesser extent) getting onto feeders and scaring off your favourite garden birds. They are very determined animals and can cause major damage to property and land. They can also be extremely noisy, particularly during the breeding season.

Squirrels are rodents, and are born to gnaw. Their incisors never stop growing, so they must chew constantly to keep them worn down. They can have a seemingly insatiable appetite and can easily consume up to 1kg of food per week! They are also extremely cunning and physically equipped to successfully overcome obstacles that we put in their way, as you can see in these photos below.

Anyone who has ever tried to outwit a squirrel with a mechanical device knows how difficult this can be. Squirrels can climb polished steel poles. They can leap more than 8 feet. Their tails give them phenomenal balance, allowing them to effortlessly cross long lengths of thin wire. They can dig and, yes, they can even swim. However building a moat to protect your bird feeders from squirrels is probably not the answer!

If you are troubled by squirrels in your garden and on your feeders and bird tables then you really have three options. The first is to adopt a few measures which may work. The second is to provide an alternative feeding station just for the squirrels. And thirdly- (no, we are probably not allowed to mention a catapult!) if the squirrel behaviour is becoming intolerable, then you can contact a local Squirrel Control Service who will come out, remove the offenders and give you advice about preventive measures. You are likely to find them on-line or in a local directory under Pest Control.


If you do decide to challenge their expertise (that is the squirrel expertise—not the pest control officer!) then here are a few things which you can try;

Try buying a squirrel proof feeder and hang it on a pole system in the middle of your lawn, approximately 10ft away from tree branches and bushes.

When buying a 'squirrel proof' feeder, it may be worth considering what this actually means! Some brands, e.g. Droll Yankee New GenerationTM tube feeders come with a lifetime guarantee against squirrel damage, but do not prevent squirrels accessing the food.

Caged feeders like those in the NutteryTM range are also called 'Squirrel Resistant' since the cage surrounding the central chamber will prevent easy access to the bird food - but the squirrels can still be very adept at gaining access.

We now stock a range of tube feeder 'guardians' which are cylindrical mesh caged 'guards' which sit over the top of the tube feeders. These come in a range of sizes, depending on the size of feeder you wish to protect.

Finally, there are a range of feeders which will prevent the squirrels eating the food. The two most popular and, we consider, the most effective are the Squirrel Buster Range and the Droll Yankee Flipper. The Squirrel Buster range of seed feeders are weight activated and shut off feeding ports when a squirrel lands on them.

The Yankee Flipper uses a cunning weight-activated and motorised perch ring to spin the squirrels off the feeders leaving them no time to enjoy the bird seed! The squirrels soon realise that feeding from the Flipper is impossible and leave it well alone

Other things which might be worth trying are devices which help prevent the squirrels gaining access to hanging feeders. Squirrel baffles and squirrel domes (available for use either as a hanging dome or as a pole mounted dome) act as blockers.

Greasing poles or using a squirrel slinky to stop the squirrel scaling the pole may also be worth trying.

Ground feeding your garden birds may be another alternative. Rather than hanging feeders up, try feeding from trays which are protected by ground feeding guardians. These guardians come in two mesh sizes and the small mesh (size 1) will prevent squirrels squeezing through and accessing the food. And finally, if you haven't succeeded in keeping them off and are feeling despondent - just be grateful that its only a squirrel you will find in your garden helping himself!

And finally, if you haven't succeeded in keeping them off and are feeling despondent - just be grateful that its only a squirrel you will find in your garden helping himself!

With special thanks to Jeff Pike and Steve Frampton for photographs.

 

Sunflowers make a colourful crop, and one that has helped turn an ailing Hampshire farm into a thriving business. Mike Abram reports
Sunflowers seem an unlikely saviour for an arable farm, even one in the sunnier climes of Hampshire.
But the crop, along with millet, naked oats and, from next year, plain canary, has been central to Richard and Lesley Smith's thriving mail-order bird seed business, which has grown over 300% in the past two years.
Just under four years ago the couple gave themselves five years to turn around Street End Farm in Bishops Waltham. The 144ha (360 acres) farm was struggling along with a sideline business wholesaling poultry corn and birdseed to various outlets.
From there the business expanded into producing a small range of birdseed mixes, which the farm sold wholesale to garden centres. But the farm just wasn't big enough to compete with the major retailers.
"We'd started off by selling hay and straw from the farm," explains Richard. "And then we were asked whether we could do hard feed for horses."
From there the business expanded into producing a small range of birdseed mixes, which the farm sold wholesale to garden centres. But the farm just wasn't big enough to compete with the major retailers.
Richard and Lesley Smith saw their mail order seed business grow by 300% in the past two years.
"The margins were low and payments slow, and while our turnover was increasing, the profits were reducing," Richard recalls. "The business needed a huge investment and we didn't have the confidence to do that."
Instead, the couple decided to set up supplying a small range of wild bird seed mixes via a mail-order website, where they wouldn't be so constrained by price. The key wasbeing able differentiate their offering, Lesley says.
"We identified an opportunity for us growing as much of the product on the farm. We knew if we grew it ourselves we would be in control of quality, and be able to appeal to customers by being locally produced with lower air miles."
Their experience with the wholesale market had given Richard a good understanding of what mixes would work, and, as importantly, he also had knowledge of seed cleaning. "It has been quite an asset," Lesley notes.
Feedback
Trips to local farmers' market in Hampshire also proved to be a valuable exercise in testing products and getting feedback from customers. "It helped us appreciate we did have good products, but also where we needed to alter. If two or three people ask for the same thing, like a robin mix, then you listen," Richard says.
The pair produces, under the banner, around 10 mixes for use on bird tables and in seed feeders. Prices range from £19.95 for a 20kg bag of the farm's original basic seed mix to £36.95 for the tidy garden mix from which there is no waste. "None of the seeds will grow under the bird table," Lesley explains.
Other mixes cater more specifically for finches or robins. In total, the couple now sell over 300 products from the website, including bird feeders, boxes and meal worms.
Around 10% of the farm's output goes into the bird seed mixes. Some of the mixes contain 70-80% farm produced seeds, other less so. The tidy garden mix, for example, contains a range of ingredients the farm couldn't produce, such as peanut granules.
As well as the specialist crops, Richard also grows wheat and oilseed rape, a small proportion of which is used in bird seed mixes.
There has been a steeper learning curve for growing some of the specialist crops, Richard admits. "It has made farming a little more interesting."
Trickey harvest
Sunflowers, in particular, have been a challenge at either end of the season. "They are not easy to establish; everything likes to eat sunflowers - slugs, pigeons, hares, rabbits, so you really have to focus on establishment."
This summer's crop was drilled on 21 May into sub-soiled land that had three passes with a Vaderstad Carrier in an effort to get a dry, fine seed-bed. The attention to detail is working - the crop this year is probably the best Richard has grown, but the trickiest bit is still yet to come - the harvesting.
"That's when the language gets a bit blue," Lesley says.
"Yours would too if you were trying to combine in November," Richard retorts.
But it isn't just the weather that makes it tricky. It isn't easy to get the sunflowers through the combine without blockages.
"Every year we've made more adaptations to the header. We've now put two to three foot high sides on to it to try and stop the sunflowers hooking over after the knife has cut them, while the reel is also completely blanked out. It looks a bit like the sails of a binder. What I'd really like is to get an old header and completely redesign it."
Specialist headers for sunflowers are available, but they cost up to £40,000 - a bit too expensive when you're only growing 10ha, Richard points out.
Rapid growth
Yields have been variable, ranging from 1.75-2.5t/ha, but they are a key ingredient in the mixes. "Nearly all garden birds like them; they're a home-grown alternative to peanuts."
The millet, white or yellow, is a bit easier to establish and grow. Typically that is harvested in late September, yielding 3.1-4.1t/ha. "I'd also like to grow red millet," Richard says. "Apparently tree sparrows love it."
The rapid growth of the business is necessarily meaning more of the specialist crops need to be grown to keep up with demand, so for the first time, seven acres of plain canary will be grown next year, along with an extra 4ha of sunflowers taking the total up to 10ha, 6ha of millet (up from 4.4ha) and 2.8ha of naked oats.
"Within two years I hope over 40ha of the farm will be for bird seed mixes, including the small areas of wheat and oilseed rape we use."
Richard does all the cleaning and mixing for the 10 different seed mixes, usually not too far in advance of sale. Fortunately farming and seed mix production are quite good bedfellows, he says. "The bird food business is at its quietest during the summer when the farm is at its busiest, and vice-versa in the winter."
Happily for the future of the farm sales are booming. "This year the bird food business will turn over more than the farm does," Richard says. "We've got a good product, and that makes it all worthwhile."



Naturetrek are only just down the country road from us at Street End Farm. After a visit to us they say.....We at Naturetrek have been really impressed by Richard and Lesley’s hard work for our local wild birds at Street End Farm. It is unsual to find a neighbour with such worthy aims! We also found the bird seed extremely attractive to our birds at Cheriton Mill ... as well as very competitively priced.

The price we pay for our Classic Peanuts and Peanut Granules for has come down recently, and we are really pleased to pass on these savings to our customers. Peanuts are flying our of the door at the moment because the weather is still so cold, so take advantage of these significant savings to you.

Not so long ago, feeding the birds was simply a matter of hanging up a plastic string of nuts and scattering stale bread. Now, bird tables are groaning under a smorgasbord of Robin Crumble, Finch Mix, insect-flavoured suet blocks and bowls of live mealworms. Even the humble peanut has been overtaken by the sunflower seed in a lofty £180 million bird food industry. Richard and Lesley Smith, owners of the Really Wild Bird Food Company, are one of a handful of producers who sow and grow their own bird seed. Here, on their 400-acre farm, near Bishop's Waltham, in Hampshire, fields of sunflowers light up the downs alongside millet, linseed, oats, rape and wheat. The seed is harvested, cleaned, mixed and packed before being sold online or at the local farmers' market in Winchester.


As a farm diversification scheme, growing and selling bird food seems to have taken off. From its early beginnings with just a few home-grown ingredients and a shovel, The Really Wild Bird Food Company is now in its fourth year of trading, with sales increasing even in the recession. ''Garden birds soon become part of the family,'' says Smith. ''Once our customers start feeding their birds they tend to carry on. They also like the fact that the food is fresh, home grown and fully traceable. All our mixes have been formulated to attract as wide a variety of birds as possible. Our most popular 'original' mix has 13 ingredients.''


To judge by the contents of the sacks, it looks almost edible with plump raisins and crunchy cereals that would not look out of place on the breakfast table. ''High-quality foods like these provide birds with the best nutrients possible,'' adds Smith. ''But we also sell more specific blends aimed at certain bird groups, as well as treats like dried earthworms.'' Robins, apparently, go mad for live mealworms, whose high water content makes them particularly useful in frozen conditions. Ground-feeding birds, such as blackbirds, enjoy raisins, while peanuts will attract woodpeckers. A recent arrival on the menu is the nyjer seed from the ramtil plant, which is popular with finches and siskins, but the universal year-round favourite is the black sunflower seed. Introduced in the Nineties, this seed has transformed bird feeding by providing a high-energy food in an accessible form.


Given the diverse range of crops, it is not surprising that Street End Farm is home to a healthy range of bird life. However, it's not just the seeds that attract them. Wild bird cover, native hedgerows and overwintered stubble all provide much needed habitat for many of our threatened farmland birds. ''In recent years, we have seen significant increases in the number of skylarks, lapwings and English partridges as well as a lot of seed-eating finches,'' says Smith. ''At the last count we recorded as many as 56 different species of wild bird on the farm.''


Lesley Smith, who is also a vet, advises customers to feed different foods in different feeders. ''Some species are ground feeders like the robin, dunnock and blackbird; others such as the tits and woodpeckers prefer to feed from hanging feeders. Spiky bushes such as blackthorn and pyracantha will offer cover from predators and clean water is essential for bathing as well as drinking.''
Unwelcome visitors such as the grey squirrel may be distracted from bird food by nuts in a separate container, or by caged feeders for birds. Smith also advises bird watchers to think like a bird and maintain a 6ft gap around a feeding station so birds can watch for approaching cats.


The latest advice from the RSPB stresses the importance of year-round feeding. In cold weather, a robin needs to eat half its body weight every day. Later, in the breeding season, high-protein foods such as live mealworms are important to make up any shortfall in insect supply. And, even in summer, moulting adults and inexperienced fledglings will welcome an easy food source. ''Bread will fill a bird up, but it is of little nutritional value,'' says Dana Thomas of the RSPB. ''If money is tight, kitchen scraps such as uncooked porridge, cake crumbs or grated cheese are much better.''


The RSPB's annual Feed the Birds weekend acts as a reminder to fill feeders, clean bird tables and put out water for wild birds in the coming months. The swallows and house martins may have gone, but the winter visitors like the redwing and the fieldfare are arriving. Even common garden birds, such as blackbirds and starlings, may have travelled to British gardens from Poland or Russia.
In this year's RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, the long tailed tit flew into the top 10 of garden birds for the first time, almost entirely as a result of seeds and peanuts provided on bird tables and feeders. It seems that catering for the birds pays dividends.


Feed the Birds Day takes place this weekend, with more than 100 special events across Britain. For further information www.rspb.org.uk
PECK AND MIX

Bird Bath

Bird baths come in various shapes and sizes and can add beauty and functionality to your garden. While a sculptured or ornamental bird bath may bring an artistic touch to one's outdoor space, the main function of a garden bird bath is to give birds a safe place to bathe, drink water, and clean their feathers. So, what is the best bird bath for your garden?

We sell a range of bird baths here at Really Wild Bird Food, including classic ornate bird baths, wrap-around bird baths, tree pedestal bird baths, and more. With so many options available, you should have no problem finding the best bird bath for your garden and the feathered friends who visit it.

But how do you choose the best bird bath for your garden? Here are some tips to help you make the right purchase...

What is the best bird bath for me?

  • First of all, looks are important. There are a number of different designs available, and you should choose something that complements the overall appearance of your garden. We love the look of this Echoes Bird Bath, a large, glazed bird bath with a ripple design that looks great and provides added grip and stability for birds in need of a drink!

Echoes bird bath

  • Birds baths come in a variety of different materials and depths. The best bird baths have bowls with varying depths (between 1 and 4 inches). Look for a product with a rough surface and shallow sloping sides.

  • Size matters! Try to select a bird bath that, in addition to being visually appealing, is a good size for your garden. Bird baths are often regarded as good focal points for an outdoor space.

  • Consider the preferences of the birds you wish to attract. Some birds bathe in isolation, while others (e.g. starlings) like to bathe in groups. The latter birds will require a bigger bird bath than those that bathe alone.

  • Cleanliness should be a key factor. A bird bath with a simple design will be easier to clean, and thus more hygienic. When filling your bird bath, you should use tap water or fresh water from a water butt. You may find that algae, leaves and droppings build up in your bird bath, so be sure to clean it regularly with a stiff brush and some diluted disinfectant.
  • Vetark Citrosan solution is a perfect, natural, biodegradable product that can be added to drinking and bathing water to minimise the risk of a disease outbreak. Adding this to your bird bath is sure to make your bird bath the best bird bath in town!

Vetark bird bath cleaner

  • In order to attract birds, you will need to consider the height of your bird bath. The best bird baths for smaller birds are tall bird baths, while bigger birds will prefer to bathe at ground level.

  • Visibility is also important. While you will no doubt want to be able to see your bird bath, it should be positioned close to some kind of protective cover that will protect birds from predators. Small trees and shrubs are ideal for this purpose.

These are a few things that you should consider in order to choose the best bird bath for your garden birds. It should not only be artistic in a way that beautifies your garden but also functional.

Garden Bird Baths

You should always choose a bird bath that serves the dual purpose of visual appeal and providing a comfortable bathing station for the birds themselves.

We hope that this will help you choose the best bird bath for your garden. If you have any questions, or if you would like to enquire about our bird baths & bird care products, don't hesitate to get in touch! You can call us on 01489 896785 or send us an email to sales@reallywildbirdfood.co.uk.

Browse our range of bird baths and drinkers >>