Whether or not to feed birds can, believe it or not, be a divisive and controversial subject. The detractors suggest that feeding wild birds is largely unnecessary as they can forage elsewhere; that causing large numbers of birds to aggregate in one place can increase predation risk or disease transmission; that it may lead to overweight birds; it may alter natural behaviour patterns. Many of these points are cogent and worth consideration. However, I am of the opinion that bolstering feeding opportunities in the face of loss of habitat and the possibility of food shortages – especially during the winter and breeding season – as well as the educational advantages and, let’s face it, enjoyment factor from viewing the feeding birds make it worthwhile. Disease transmission can be mitigated by cleaning feeders and the like (though in some instances, such as the trichomonosis outbreak in greenfinches, is much harder to deal with) and birds are unlikely to get too fat as this would make then more susceptible to predation.
As we both love birds, Emma and I decided to utilise the bars on the front of our flat (purely a precautionary measure) as a feeding station. This began with a bag of peanuts and a fat-ball. However I wanted to take it a few steps further, so tied large branches to the bars and equipped them with three feeders (nigra seed, mixed seed and peanuts) and three fat-balls. So far we appear to have been visited by an apparently winter-resident and extremely defensive blue-tit, some sparrows, a chaffinch or two, a greenfinch, a dunnock and, if prints in the snow are any judge, a blackbird. They’ve not come in any great numbers yet, but that might change in time.
If you do decide to feed birds, there are a few basic guidelines to follow:
- Make the food accessible to birds but inaccessible to predators. If sparrowhawks may be a problem, situate the feeders far from cover and with as much open space as possible.
- Use quality feed which has been stored well and has not been sprayed with chemicals.
- Provide a variety of foods – birds don’t all eat the same thing!
Keep all feeders and surfaces clean.
- Provide fresh water (if possible).