It may not feel it as this winter has got to be one of the warmest on record but believe it or not it is winter and being winter it will mean the birds will need some help to survive! At Potteric Carr in Doncaster we get asked this question a lot and to be honest it is down to the individual but we hope the below from Vine House Farm (our excellent local supplier and Wildlife Trust support may give you a helping hand!
What to feed garden birds
The small birds attracted to gardens such as tits, finches and sparrows carry little or no fat reserves, so it’s vital they have access to energy-rich foods on a daily basis. Of course in an ideal world that food would be natural, but our landscape is now almost an ideally man-made one and this has resulted in far less natural food for song birds. For example, only a tiny fraction of our native woodlands remain, and the majority of the farms in the UK focus on maximum production which therefore excludes wildlife – e.g. hedgerows have been removed and crops are routinely sprayed with insecticides. (The reverse is true on the Vine House Farm farm – they very much manage our land with wildlife in mind.) So providing high quality, energy-rich foods helps compensate for the huge reduction in natural foods.
All the foods supplied from Vine House Farm to Potteric Carr Nature Reserve and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust shops is high quality and can be considered energy-rich. However, this is not the case with all bird foods on the market and it’s important to avoid cheap mixes which, although they appear good value,generally contain ‘fillers’ such as pulses and even broken-up dog biscuit! This type of food has little nutritional benefit to garden birds, but may not be eaten anyway – instead just creating waste and potential disease as it rots down. So rule number one: only buy high quality bird food and form a brand you can trust.
There are many different types of bird food which can be used to attract different species. Plus, giving individual species a choice of foods allows them to go for types which they instinctively know are right for their needs and at different times of year – e.g. live foods in the fledgling season.
As a general rule, the more different types of food you provide AND in different ways, the more species you will attract and in greater numbers. Common species such as robin, blackbird, greenfinch and blue tit are virtually guaranteed, but even in more urban areas it should be possible to attract species such as goldfinch and long tailed tit if the right foods are provided.
Broadly speaking, bird food can be split into a couple of main categories:
As the name suggests, these products contain a mix of seeds and, in some cases, other ingredients such as suet pellets and dried mealworms. The great thing about mixes is that you’re providing birds with a choice of foods in one location, with this benefiting each individual species and helping to attract a greater number of species overall.
All Vine House Farm seed mixes are based on either the oil-rich black sunflower seed or sunflower hearts (which are simply the black sunflower seed without the husk). Our bird seed mixes are as follows…
Are based on black sunflower seeds and include the VHF Mixed Seed. This will attract a wide variety of bird species, though the fact that the black sunflower seeds are still in their husk will limit the appeal of the mix to species such as Blackbird, Song Thrush and Robin (none of these species can remove the husk as finches and tits can).
Contain the same ingredients as the basic seed mixes but with sunflower hearts replacing black sunflower seeds. So you get the benefit of the mix being eaten by more species, as well as the absence of the mess created by the husks from the black sunflower seeds. Premium mixes include VHF Premium Mix.
How do I choose the right sort of food for my garden birds?
The two types above will attract a wide mix of birds, but the premium mix will attract more than mixed seed simply because of the sunflower hearts having no husk. Other factors to consider are:
- If you have limited time to maintain the area you feed birds in then go for premium mix – there’s much less waste
- If you have multiple tube seed feeders then try mixed seeds in one and premium in others – this is bound to attract more species
- If you have a bird table or ground feeder as well as a tube seed feeder, then use premium mixes as you should be able to attract blackbirds and song thrushes (which can’t use a tube seed feeder)
The obvious question is why feed straight foods over mixes? Well for one, some of the foods above aren’t contained in all of the mixes, so providing some straight foods in addition to mixes will help attract more species and give more choice. Some straight foods are also preferred to mixes by certain species, and examples include Goldfinches on Niger Seed and Greenfinches on Black Sunflower – both species will, typically, favour that respective straight seed given the choice between this and a mix.
The best way to decide which straight foods to feed alongside mixes is to experiment and observe. Then once you’ve seen the different bird species in your garden and what each prefer you can alter their feed according to their preferences. In addition, you can also produce your own mix from different straights.
Which straight bird food if I only want to use one?
If you only want to feed a straight food in your garden and no mixes, then it really should be Black Sunflower or Sunflower Hearts – preferably hearts as Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Robins can also eat them. This is because both are preferred by more bird species than any other seed and their nutritional composition makes them the best all-round food.
Potteric Carr Nature Reserve has a large supply of the Vine House Farm seed selection which can also be bought on our online shop. But if you do have time and are in the Doncaster area please do pop on down as we sell the Vine House Farm seed in loose bags and there standard 13kg and 25kg bags. Along with this we sell a vast selection of suets, fats and mealworms from various companies such as Gardman and Jacobi Jayne.