Feeding Wild Birds

Although many birds in nature can find their own food, research shows that providing supplementary food can make a difference in their lives. With this in mind, it's important to know what's best when feeding wild birds to ensure you're not endangering them and providing the most nutritional value.

Some birds may be unable to survive the natural shortage of food which can occur any time of the year. Supplementary feeding can help more birds survive periods of food shortage, e.g. during the cold months of winter. It also increases productivity in a range of species and puts them in good breeding conditions in the spring.

The following tips show you how to feed wild birds safely and responsibly.


What To Feed Wild Birds

 Different species of birds have different requirements.

UK Pet Food has developed a handy factsheet to help understand some of the common species and their feeding habits.  


How To Feed Wild Birds

There is a wide range of products on the market suitable for hanging feeders, birdtables, and ground feeding. Depending on what products you buy for your garden, you will attract certain types of birds.

Bird Tables

Bird tables are suitable for many bird species and most foods. Even a simple tray can be perfectly adequate, with or without a roof. It is important for the design to allow the rainwater drain away and you are able to clean away droppings and uneaten food. Sometimes elaborate designs can be difficult to clean.

Hanging Feeders

Nut feeders are made of steel mesh, and are the only safe method of offering nuts to wild birds. The mesh size needs to be large enough to prevent birds damaging their beak, and small enough to avoid large pieces of nut from being taken due to the risk of choking.

Seed feeders are often in the shape of a transparent tube container with holes through which birds are able to access the seed. These are designed for sunflower seeds and seed mixes. They attract birds such as tits, siskins and greenfinches.

Ground Feeders can be made of wood or metal. Some of them have metal mesh protection to allow only the smaller birds in and protect them against predators.

Homemade Devices

If you are thinking of creating a homemade device as a bird feeder, always consult with a reputable garden/pet shop or manufacturer of bird food for technical and safety advice.


When To Feed Wild Birds

Natural food shortages may occur any time of the year. Therefore it is best to feed wild birds all year round. 

Spring: Supplementary feeding in spring is important because it provides nutritious food for adults while they're working hard to find insects and grubs for their growing young.

Summer: During summer, when the ground begins to get hard and ground-dwelling prey such as earth worms often go deeper underground, garden feeding stations can provide a suitable replacement for proteins.

Autumn: The extra food also helps the birds prepare for their autumn moult - when they renew their feathers - and the upcoming winter.

Winter: The winter, of course, brings its own set of hardships from freezing conditions to floods and strong winds. So whatever the season, you can be sure that birds will appreciate a little extra help.

Our Bird Feeding Seasonality Poster is a great educational tool for teachers to use in the classroom. It can also be used by retailers and garden centres as a guide for their customers. You can download our poster up to an A2 size with high-resolution quality.


What Not To Feed Wild Birds

Birds may try and eat almost anything edible, but some items are harmful and should not be put out at a garden feeding station.

  • Salty items, such as salted peanuts, crisps and bacon should be avoided, as should any dry food that may swell once ingested.
  • Desiccated coconut can be fatal to birds if not well soaked and is best avoided altogether.
  • Anything that could choke a bird shouldn’t be provided; for example whole peanuts, lumps of hard fat and dried bread.
  • Any mouldy or spoiled foods must be avoided.
  • Never give milk to any birds. A bird's gut is not designed to digest milk and it can cause serious stomach upset or even death.
  • Sometimes peanuts and fat balls are sold in nylon mesh bags. Never put out any food in mesh bags. These may trap birds’ feet and cause broken or torn off feet and legs. Birds with a barbed tongue, e.g. woodpeckers, can become trapped by their beaks.

During the breeding season, make sure the food you are offering on your bird table is suitable for the young chicks, as adults may occasionally use them to feed the youngsters.

Never put out loose peanuts, dry hard foods, large chunks of bread, or fats during the spring or summer months as the chicks can choke on the food and die.


Dealing With Predators

A few simple steps can make your garden a safer place for visiting birds:

  • Feeding stations and water bowls/baths should be placed far away from bushes, low covers and other areas where predators might hide.
  • Birds of prey such as Sparrowhawks may take smaller birds from garden feeding stations. Move the feeding station around the garden regularly makes it more difficult for the Sparrowhawk to predict where the small birds will be feeding.

Cats are natural predators and although each individual cat may have different habits of taking prey, cat owners can do things to help reduce the impact their pet may have on garden birds. For example limiting the time your cats spend outdoors during the night and during the early bird breeding season can reduce the risk. Attaching bells to your cat’s collar can provide a warning noise to wary prey and lower the number of successful pray catches.