I'm lucky to live in the Cairngorms National Park and I have positioned my bird feeders in my garden so I can sit and watch them from my favourite chair with a big mug of coffee. It’s a wonderful past time during the colder, more dreary winter months. I originally started feeding the birds because I felt it was important to attract wildlife to the garden, not only does it benefit my plants, by keeping aphids and caterpillars in check, but it brings me joy. I like to watch the different species interact.
The Starlings are certainly the most boisterous, coming in waves throughout the day, almost demolishing entire feeders when the weather has been particularly cold. Robins chase off any other small bird that dares to feed next to them but gives way to the Jackdaws and Rooks. The Rooks figured out how to unhook the feeders and empty them onto the ground, I counterattacked with zip ties, but soon felt quite bad when watching them struggle with the feeders so I used ceramic dishes I sourced from Aldi, which previously had hot cheese in them. These are too heavy for them to tip over when filled with of seed. Jackdaws are very polite, they wait their turn, the avoid busy feeding times and they never seem in a rush. Coal Tits and Blue Tits both nip in and out, grabbing a little bit of the fat balls or a sunflower seed, flying back to a tree to consume its prize. House Sparrows travel in groups feeding harmoniously with all other birds, they seem to be at my feeders more than any other species.
Chaffinches come in twos or threes and clear up the spilled seed underneath, I sprinkle extra sunflower seeds for them on the ground. I am proud to say, I have Dunnocks visit my feeders almost daily, they are not favoured by the Robins, but steal a mealworm or two when no one is watching. I have both Collared Doves and Woodpigeons attempt to balance on top of the tiny perches but usually give up and feed from the ground. Neither stay very long, nor take notice of other birds.
The garden is filled with berries from Cotoneaster and many snails, but when the berries are low, I put out some cut apples. I had such a great produce from my singular Apple tree, I took the less edible ones put aside for Apple crumble and put them to good use. I’m rather hopeful that I may get a Waxwing or two this winter, although no such luck yet. And finally, both Greenfinches and Siskins have only ever visited my feeders once or twice, usually on much colder winter days.
I’m sure you have gathered from the species mentioned, I live in a town, close to scattered woodlands. If you live rurally, the species you can attract to your feeders can be completely different. I once lived in a flat in the middle of Aberdeen, I didn’t have a garden, but I put up a window feeder and was delighted with how many birds visited. No matter where you live though, you should always take care to clean your feeders thoroughly to avoid spread of diseases between birds. When I fill my feeders, I make sure to give them a wipe and then once a month, I leave them to become bare then put all of them through a hot cycle in the dishwasher. This then forces me to clean my dishwasher afterwards too with some soda crystals. Although exercise caution with plastic feeders as they tend to melt with the heat, I have learned this more than once. I tend to feed my garden birds from October to March, sometimes into April, really depending on the weather. I find the food goes to waste during the summer months and the birds should not rely on it completely to feed chicks.
Here is a list of what you can put into your feeders and what birds they attract.
Apples – Blackbirds, Waxwings
Peanuts – Squirrels, Coal Tits, Woodpeckers.
Fat balls – Starlings, Blue Tits, most birds enjoy these.
Niger seed – Siskins
Seed mix – Greenfinch, Chaffinch, House sparrows, Long-tailed tits
Sunflower seeds – Goldfinch, Robins, Great tits
Pellets – Most birds
Mealworms – Dunnocks and Blackbirds
Scraps from your kitchen, such as fruit and veg, pasta and rice.
However, it’s important to do your research as salt and oil isn’t good for your garden friends and if you are leaving it on the ground, keep in mind Hedgehogs will investigate food left out.
It’s a wonderful past time and brings me moments of calm, watching my bird feeders. And it can also help you to learn about each species.
There is the Big Garden Birdwatch between the 26th and 28th January 2024. You can find out more here and see how to take part https://www.rspb.org.uk/whats-happening/big-garden-birdwatch. I’m hoping this year I may get even more species on my garden list.