Building a bird feeding station is, without a doubt, the most effective and reliable way to attract wildlife into your garden. With a little bit of planning it is easy to entice a wide range of garden birds. It is, of course, immensely popular in many gardens and can really come into its own if you have a miniHide installed already. Failing that install your feeding station in good view of a window.
No Cats or Rats please.
Firstly you need to consider who you want to invite to your party. Bird food is far too expensive to waste. Free food can so easily attract an unruly mob. This is very much a personal choice. Rats are probably top of the list of undesirables for obvious health considerations. Most people, quite understandably, would also prefer not to welcome all the cats in the neighbourhood. Certainly the birds themselves would not thank you if you did. Mice, on the other hand, can provide quite a bit of entertainment if they can elude the cats.
Squirrels often provoke a more variable response. Kids always seem to love them and red squirrels are invariably a delight if you are lucky enough to live somewhere where they still exist. Indeed wildlife photographers will pay handsomely to be able to get close to these appealing mammals. On the other hand grey squirrels can munch their way through an amazing amount of food. Their sharp teeth can all to easily destroy the very fabric of your feeders. Squirrel-proof feeders remain a very popular choice for many.
Consider the Little Guys.
One of the easiest methods of sorting out the more boisterous guests is to make life difficult for the larger birds. Crows, gulls, magpies and pigeons can bully their way into your station if you let them. That’s not to say they should always be excluded but it invariably makes sense to provide some feeders that only the little guys can access. Experiment with different sized meshes to restrict larger birds. Although a simple and reliable solution this is not necessarily the greatest solution from a visual perspective. A more natural solution would be to surround your feeders with twigs and pruning’s. Spikey clippings from hawthorn hedges are very effective and can also act as a source of berries. This technique is great to help protect the smaller birds from the really bad guys like cats and sparrow hawks.
Choice of food is also of great importance. If you want to dissuade pigeons, doves and pheasants avoid wheat and barley grains. Peas, beans, rica and lentils are also better left off the menu.
Offer a Selection of Dishes.
In common with most animal groups, birds have evolved to exploit a wide range of different foods.The shape and size of their bills is testament to this evolution. Even within family groups different species have evolved to capitalise on slightly different foodstuffs. As a general rule it is a good idea to stick with natural vegetarian dishes with a few insect snacks thrown in for good measure. Here are a few basic guidelines.
Readily available and easy to store. Can be mixed to encourage specific species.
Millet – great for house sparrows, dunk and finches
Flaked Maize – loved by blackbirds
Nyger Seed – goldfinches appreciate the high oil content of these seeds but they do need a special feeder because of their small size.
Sunflower Seeds – Top choice. If you want to avoid the build up of empty seed cases from back sunflower seeds then sunflower hearts are readily available.
Peanuts – care needed as these may contain aflatoxin. Best avoided whole during the breeding season.
Apples and pears are a great choice for blackbirds and thrushes. Fieldfares and redwings also really appreciate them in the depths of winter. Try to stop some in a dry shed to maintain supplies throughout the winter.
Use hard fats such as lard and suet. Oils are not really suitable. Cheap and great for concocting your own recipes using other ingredients listed here.
An often forgotten food but many birds rely on insects. Long tailed tits love insects within a fat block. Wrens and dunk also love them. Even house sparrows rely heavily on insects during the breeding season. Mealworms are an expensive but highly nutrias food available in a dried format for easier storage. Use a special feeder to restrict access by larger birds to keep costs at a reasonable level. Robins, blue tits , wagtails and house sparrows will always come to the party.
If you do not want to go to the expense of supplying mealworms there is much that you can do to increase the natural availability of insects. Installing a wildlife pond helped me to entice a grey wagtail into my garden on a regular basis. A dead hedge made from hehe clippings and tree prunings is extremely useful to provide insect refuges inaddition to giving the birds some much needed sanctuary.
Don’t Forget the Drinks.
Water is simple and cheap to provide but essential for all life forms. No fancy cocktails or alcohol needed here. Remember to replenish in freezing weather and why not make the glasse big enough for the birds to enjoy an occasional bath. Better still why not install a wildlife pond
Maintain High Hygiene Standards
If you want to run a successful restaurant impeccable hygiene standards are essential. An outbreak of food poisoning is not at all uncommon and can literally kill off some of your guests. Offering poor quality food can be dangerous for all concerned.
Be sure to wash your feeders weekly. Soap and water should be fine but there are disinfectants available to be absolutely sure. Better still why not add a wildlife pond
Opportunities for Photography.
The marriage of a miniHide and a bird feeding station can offer some wonderful opportunities for bird photography. With some forethought and planning some really exceptional photographs are possible that are virtually impossible to capture by other means. Here are a few of my tips to maximise your chances of success.
- Add interesting perches close to your feeders but out of camera shot. Snarled dead wood, hazel and birch catkins, teasel seed heads make excellent perches. Don’t be afraid to be creative and try some manmade objects as unusual perches.
- Control the background with fabrics and boards. A messy background can so easily detract from the subject.
- Record at eye level by controlling the height of the feeding station.
- Use reflections to add interest
- Record unusual behaviour. A photograph of a common bird demonstrating some unusual behaviour is often more appealing than a distant shot of rare bird part hidden in a hedge.