The dos and don’ts of bird feeding

As the cold winds of winter blow in, your garden becomes an increasingly important haven for wildlife. One of the most entertaining and rewarding ways to assist the local fauna is to provide food and water for birds. However, incorrect feeding practices can do more harm than good, potentially leading to disease outbreaks and disrupting the natural balance. In this article, we’ll delve into the dos and don’ts of bird feeding, helping you to keep these beautiful creatures happy and healthy while contributing positively to your garden’s ecosystem.

Choosing the Right Feeders

Before you begin inviting the birds into your garden, it’s essential to choose the right feeders. Not all feeders are created equal, and different designs cater to different species.

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Size and Design

The size and design of a feeder can dictate which birds will use it. Larger birds may struggle with small feeders and vice versa. Similarly, some birds are ground feeders, while others prefer to perch. Try to accommodate a mix of sizes and styles to attract a diversity of species.

Material and Durability

Feeders made from durable materials like metal or hard plastic will last longer and better withstand adverse weather conditions. Avoid flimsy feeders that can quickly deteriorate.

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A good feeder allows birds easy access to the seed, but also keeps it dry and prevents it from being soiled by droppings. This will help to reduce the risk of disease.

What to Feed and What Not to Feed

Knowing what to feed birds is just as important as knowing what not to feed them. A well-balanced bird diet can help birds thrive, especially during the winter months.


Seeds constitute a significant part of most birds’ diets. Sunflower seeds are particularly popular due to their high-fat content – essential for maintaining energy levels during colder months. Similarly, nyjer seeds are loved by finches, while sparrows and blackbirds enjoy mixed seeds.


Suet is a high-energy food source that is particularly beneficial during the winter months. However, it’s important to source suet cakes or balls from reputable suppliers to ensure they are safe for birds.

Don’t Feed Birds

Avoid feeding birds bread, as it offers little nutritional value and can cause health problems. Similarly, salted or flavored nuts, dairy products, and anything containing caffeine or alcohol are harmful to birds.

Keeping Feeders Clean

One of the essential but often overlooked aspects of bird feeding is proper feeder maintenance. A dirty feeder can become a breeding ground for disease.

Clean your feeders regularly, ideally once a week. Rinse with warm soapy water and scrub all surfaces thoroughly. Make sure the feeder is totally dry before refilling with seed, as damp seed can lead to the growth of harmful mold.

Providing Water

Just as important as food, birds need access to clean water for both drinking and bathing.

Ensure that your bird bath or water dish is shallow enough for small birds. It should also be cleaned regularly to prevent the growth of algae and harmful bacteria. In the winter, consider investing in a heated bird bath to prevent the water from freezing over.

Creating a Bird-Friendly Garden

Beyond providing food and water, there are other ways to make your garden more appealing to birds.

Plant native trees and shrubs that provide natural food sources and nesting sites. Try to reduce the use of pesticides, as these can harm birds directly or eliminate their insect prey.

Remember, your garden can play a crucial role in supporting local bird populations, particularly during the harsh winter months. Armed with this knowledge, you are now equipped to become a responsible bird feeder and contribute positively to your local ecosystem.

The Importance of Variety in Bird Feeding

Feeding birds, especially throughout the winter, is not only about providing food. It’s also about offering a variety of choices that cater to the diverse diets and preferences of different bird species.

The variety of bird food you offer in your feeders will determine the types of birds that visit your garden. For example, sunflower seeds, particularly black oil sunflower seeds, are a universal favorite among many bird species. They are high in fat, which is vital for birds during winter as it helps them maintain their energy levels. Therefore, offering sunflower seeds will attract a diversity of bird species.

On the other hand, nyjer seeds, or thistle, are much smaller and lighter than other seeds. They are appealing primarily to finches and other small birds. Hence, offering nyjer seeds will help attract these types of birds to your garden.

White proso millet and cracked corn are other popular bird foods. They are especially favored by ground-feeding birds like sparrows and doves. Therefore, scattering these seeds on the ground or in tray feeders will accommodate ground-feeding birds.

Additionally, providing high-energy foods like suet and peanut butter will help attract woodpeckers and other insect-eating birds. You can purchase suet cakes or balls from a reputable supplier or make your own. Just remember to avoid using ingredients harmful to birds, like salted or flavored nuts, dairy products, caffeine, or alcohol.

Variety in bird feeding is not just about offering different types of food. It also involves using different types of feeders. Some birds, especially smaller species, prefer tube feeders, while others favor platform or hopper feeders. Thus, combining different foods and feeders will help attract a diversity of bird species to your garden.


Feeding birds can be a rewarding activity that brings life and color to your garden, particularly during the bleak winter months. However, it is crucial to do so responsibly to avoid causing harm to the birds or disrupting the natural balance of your local ecosystem.

Remember, the key to bird feeding is variety. Offering a diversity of foods in different types of feeders will attract a range of bird species to your garden. Sunflower seeds, nyjer seeds, white proso millet, and cracked corn are all great choices. Additionally, high-energy foods like suet and peanut butter can help birds sustain their energy levels throughout the winter.

Just as important as providing food is ensuring clean and accessible water for your feathered friends. Moreover, keeping your feeders clean will help prevent the spread of disease among bird populations.

Lastly, consider making your garden more bird-friendly by planting native trees and shrubs and reducing pesticide use. By becoming a responsible bird feeder, you can play a crucial role in supporting your local bird populations and contribute positively to your local ecosystem.

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