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Provet for educational purposes only.
You should seek the advice of your
veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the
diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.
It is common for
people to put out food for wild birds ...but what should you put out, in fact
should you put anything out at all ?
Wild birds have adapted their
lifestyle around the type of food that they eat. If food sources are short
they will travel to find a new feeding ground. In many cases this requires a long
journey at the onset of winter ..sometimes hundreds or even thousands of miles, a journey called
migration. So, during cold winters when food such as insects and fruit is scarce,
birds will migrate to warmer climates. In the UK we see an annual mass migration of
birds away from the UK southwards seeking the warmer weather in North Africa
and beyond. At the same time other birds, such as swans and geese, migrate in to
the UK from colder northern climates such as Siberia and the Arctic circle.
The poor Arctic Tern migrates the furthest of all - it literally travels the
length of the Earth ...from the Arctic to the Antarctic !
As a general rule
the birds that remain behind do so because they can survive the winter months,
and only if the weather is exceptionally severe will food be difficult to find
so, except for unusual circumstances when food is extremely scarce, additional
feeding is not necessary.
Should you feed wild
Many people consider it wrong to put out food for wild
birds, for the following reasons :
- It isn't necessary for the birds - except under very unusual
circumstances when natural food supplies unexpectedly run out.
- Attracting birds into feeding areas in domestic gardens may increase the
risk of attacks by predators such as cats, or birds of prey.
- The ingredients put out to attract birds may not be the ideal raw
ingredients found in the birds natural ration, but easy availability may
create "fad feeding" with the following consequences :
- The birds do not eat a complete or balanced ration, which could
result in a nutritional deficiency or excess and disease
- Many of the ingredients which are frequently put out for birds (such
as nuts) are very high in energy density and can cause obesity if
eaten in any great quantity
- Birds may not hunt for their usual food if plenty is easily
available from a garden feeding area - which could have the
following impact :
- The birds gets less activity - resulting in obesity
- The birds may not eat and disseminate the seeds of it's normal
fruit foods - so altering the food-chain and even the whole
mini-ecosystem surrounding dispersal of plant seeds
- The birds may develop an acquired preference for ingredients in the
provided bird food which are not present in it's normal environment,
and so it may develop a dependence on the supplementary food.
- Encouraging wild birds to frequent and feed in urban areas may
permanently alter the birds natural behaviour patterns
- Providing an artificial source of food may dilute the effect of the
Darwinian principle of "survival of the fittest" and so may
adversely alter the genetic expression and future development of the
species by allowing birds that would ordinarily perish to survive.
Notwithstanding these concerns most authorities , such as Wild Life Trusts
across the UK, consider it is alright to feed wild birds, they often sell wild
bird food and feeders, and some even advocate all-year-round feeding rather
than feeding just in the winter.
Why should you
feed the birds ?
- It is interesting and educational to watch wild birds feed, bath and
interact at close quarters
- In severe weather conditions wild birds will benefit from your food
- In some locations birds have lost their natural habitat (eg hedgerows)
and so traditional sources of food may be genuinely sparse, so feeding is
helping them to survive.
- Wild birds visiting your garden will also seek out garden pests -
greenfly and other insects, slugs, snails and caterpillars
If you do
decide to feed wild birds there are some basic precautions that you should
- Situate the food in a position that is inaccessible to local predators
eg cats. A high bird table with an overhanging top, or a suspended feeding
cage are commonly used.
- Make sure there is good visibility around the feeding area so that birds
can see predators early and get away, but at the same time some overhead
cover is desirable so that the feeding birds aren't easy prey for
- If you own a bird-catching cat, dog or ferret ...keep it indoors when
you are feeding the birds
- Only provide foods that you know have not been sprayed with
insecticides, and which have been stored correctly, otherwise they can go
mouldy and become toxic for the birds. Bird foods should always be stored
in a dry, cool place and marked foods should be used before their expiry
- The birds in your garden have a wide-spectrum of food requirements so
offer a broad range of fresh ingredients including :
- Seeds - commercial seed mixes include canary seed, sunflower seeds,
hemp, and many others. Peanuts are a great favourite.
- Fruit - eg apples, pears, currants, grapes, figs, dried prunes or
- make sure peanuts are free from aflatoxins, and
- do not give too many nuts as they are high in energy content and
the birds may get fat !
- Green vegetables
- Coconut halves
- Soaked bread (not dry bread), biscuits or leftover cakes.
- For carrion birds - meat ...which can be on a leftover bone
- For live-feeders - mealworms
- Some birds prefer to eat flat off the ground or off a bird table
surface, others (eg tits) will prefer to take food from a suspended
feeder. Hiding food is useful and encourages normal foraging behaviour,
for example, nuts can be hidden in cracks in tree trunks.
- Keep all containers and feeding surfaces clean
- You can feed birds in 2 ways :
- Leave food out all the time - this is not such a good system because
it encourages overeating and obesity, encourages squirrels and other
vermin to take the food, and it means that you will not be sure at
what time of the day birds will visit for a feed
- Timed feeding - put the food out at set times of the day. Once birds
learn the time they will come back every day, and you can guarantee to
have some activity to watch.
- In BOTH cases remove any spilled food or stale food regularly -
otherwise it may spoil, and will attract unwanted vermin such as
- Once birds are used to visiting your feeding area on a regular basis
you should maintain the food supply, otherwise they may waste a lot of
valuable energy travelling to your garden in the winter for no reason.
- Provide fresh water as well for :
When to stop feeding ?
Unless the birds have developed a dependency it is best to stop feeding in
the early Spring when the worst of the winter weather is over, and natural
foods are becoming more abundant. Also, it is important that fledglings get
their natural diet. A young bird designed by evolution to eat regurgitated
earthworms or insects may die if it's parents bring home a peanut for
Updated October 2013