Bird food is a small but crucial way of supporting British wildlife. Provide meals for birds and their young and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful birdsong and displays of natural colour.
Bird food is a vital source of energy for birds. It feeds not only adult birds but also their chicks and makes birds bigger and stronger, ensuring a healthier population. It also means you’ll have birds visiting your garden all day long.
A host of different bird feed is available to provide for a wide variety of birds, all year-round. Mixed bird feed will feed insectivores, omnivores, and herbivorous birds alike. Alternatively, you can tailor your food to the birds you know visit your garden or that you hope to attract. Insectivores like house martins won’t go for sunflower hearts; conversely, wood pigeons won’t eat from feeders filled with mealworms.
What should I feed the birds?
Bird foods can be split into four rough categories – insects, high-protein sources, seeds and grains, and berries.
Insects such as dried mealworms are great for most British birds, which are largely omnivorous. Dried or roasted mealworms are most common but waxworms, earthworms, and crickets are also fantastic unprocessed food sources, though they can be a little more expensive.
High-energy, high-protein food like sunflower hearts, suet or nuts are vital in winter. Just as for humans, proteins are crucial for helping birds build crucial muscle mass and body fat. However, in too large a quantity they can be unhealthy, so make sure you provide a healthy balance with different types of foods. It’s also good to make sure they’re in small pieces, so birds – especially chicks – don’t choke.
Seeds and grains
These are helpful all year round and are a mainstay of most birds’ diet. Try to avoid feed with wheat, because this has little nutritional value for birds and is used to bulk up feed – birds often won’t eat it either, and will dump it on the ground to get to tastier food. Keen gardeners will appreciate no-grow seeds, which have been roasted, cracked, or ground so that they don’t germinate in borders or lawns.
Birds and berries have a symbiotic relationship; berries give birds vital nutrients and vitamins, and birds excrete berry seeds so new shrubs and trees can grow. In areas without shrubbery or hedgerows, birds can miss out on this crucial part of their diet, so berries should be a mainstay of a good bird food. Mixed bird foods that include dried berries particularly suits robins, sparrows, and thrushes in late summer and autumn.
When should I feed the birds?
It’s good to leave food out for birds year-round, but their needs do change with the seasons:
In Winter and Spring – the best bird food for winter and spring is heavy, protein-rich food like suet. In the colder seasons it’s crucial that birds find high-energy snacks to feed themselves and their chicks.
In Summer and Autumn – lighter food like oats and millet are great for summer, when food is more plentiful and chicks are grown.
Where should I put bird food?
It’s best to put your feeder or bird table somewhere quiet, out of the reach of predators like cats or bigger birds. Bird food needs to be sheltered by greenery, both to protect birds from the weather and to give them a place to scout your feeder and check that they’re safe to feed.
What shouldn’t I feed wild birds?
Although some food from our kitchens is fine to give to birds, some should definitely be avoided:
- Don’t feed birds big chunks of anything, because they can choke on the pieces. This is true for whole peanuts, desiccated coconut, and dry pieces of bread. Chop up your bird food to make it easier for them to eat.
- Junk food like crisps or biscuit crumbs are also a choking hazard, as well as containing dangerous additives with little nutritional value. Salty food like bacon rinds are also potentially hazardous, because birds can’t process the high levels of salt in human food. So while birds love peanuts, use plain, unseasoned ones.
- Milk causes gut problems in birds and although some can eat fermented dairy – robins love mild grated cheddar – it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid dairy products.
- Just as it does to humans, mouldy food can make birds ill. Make sure to store your bird food somewhere dry and clean out your bird feeder every few days to make sure food hasn’t gone off. This is especially important if you live in a city, or near water, as this food could attract rats.
A less direct way to feed birds is in your gardening itself. Plants offer a fantastic opportunity to provide natural wild bird food as part of your wider garden design. Sunflowers and their seeds are a great source of protein, and holly and blackthorn provide invaluable berries year-round.
Looking to support British Wildlife? Have a look at our guide to bird feeders or bird tables. Offer birds a home with our guide to bird nesting boxes and check up on your new wild companions with a bird box camera
Are you a keen wildlife gardener? Why not take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch on Friday 28th to Sunday 30th January 2022?
Sadly, birdlife in the UK is struggling and according to the RSPB, our bird population has declined by a staggering 38 million over the last 50 years.
The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, is now in its 43rd year and a great way for wildlife enthusiasts to get involved as citizen scientists and keep an eye on visiting garden birds. Last year over a million people took part, which helped the RSPB create an accurate picture of how our feathered friends are getting on, as well as highlighting which species most need our help.
At this time of year birds are more likely to visit gardens in search of much-needed food and shelter, so by providing a selection of tasty treats, you’re not only doing your bit to sustain local bird life, but encouraging birds into your patch too. To make sure you’re ready for the weekend, check out our guides to the best nutritious feeds, best bird feeders, best bird tables and best bird baths.
How do I get involved with the Big Garden Birdwatch?
Fun for all the family, simply watch the birds in your garden or local green space for an hour at some point during the weekend, and count the species that land – not the ones that fly by. You then need to log your findings on the RSPB’s database. You can pre-register to take part, and if you can’t tell a sparrow from a starling, don’t worry, you can also sign up to receive a free guide to help you identify the different species.
Last year saw greenfinches move onto the UK Red List for at-risk species, for the first time. Thought to be affected by a disease called trichomonosis, the RSPB are keeping a close eye on chaffinches and house sparrows as it’s feared they might be susceptible to this disease, too. While this is concerning, you can help by regularly cleaning your bird feeders to reduce the spread of this parasite.
Nine nutritious bird feeds for your garden
Peckish Natural Balance Seed Mix, 1.7kg
This mixed bird food is perfect for supporting a wide variety of birds. It also has great green credentials – its packaging is entirely recyclable and contains no plastic.
Price: £4 for 1.7kg
Extra Select Premium Wild Bird Food
Five litres of seed for just £6.99 is a steal, and with eight different ingredients, this bird food is perfect for attracting a wide variety of birds. A great starting point for first-time use or gardeners on a budget.
Price: £6.69 for 5 litres
RSPB Favourites blend bird food
RSPB Favourites Blend
The RSPB have combined their best-selling bird foods into this mix of ingredients. With sunflower hearts, a pellet mix of suet and raisins, and dried mealworms, this bird food is the avian equivalent of a full English: high-protein, high-calorie sustenance.
Price: £7.49 for 1.8kg
National Trust CJ Wildlife Hi-Energy No Mess Seed Mix
This seed mix is good for birds and good for your lawns and patios. With no wheat filler or husks, this bird food won’t leave debris all over your garden, but still provides great nutrition.
Price: £8 for 3 litres
RHS Complete Seed Mix Bird Feed
This mix of seeds from the RHS is great year round, but especially useful in spring and winter when food is scarce. It has nongerminating seeds, so there’s no self-sowing, and is designed to appeal to as many birds as possible.
Price: £4.79 for 2kg
Peckish Complete Seed and Nut
This is an impressive mix of twelve different seeds and nuts. It’s no-mess and is also vitamin fortified to help birds grow strong bones and produce robust eggshells. Great for attracting songbirds.
Price: £9.99 for 5kg
Seedzbox Ultimate Deluxe Wild Bird Seed Feed
This bird feed mix has a remarkable variety of ingredients. It’s designed to not only maximise the number of birds enjoying your garden, but to provide them with a diverse source of proteins and carbohydrates. This seed also donates to One Tree Planted, a non-profit which plants trees.
Price: £11.99 for 2kg
RSPB No grow ground mix
This no-grow mix is good for fastidious gardeners. The mix has been selected and cut to lower the chance of this feed germinating in your garden. It’s a hearty mix of suet, rolled oats and flaked maize – perfect for bigger songbirds like blackbirds.
Price: £3.75 for 5.5kg
Garden Wildlife Direct All Year Round Bird Seed Mix
This bird seed is designed to be a come-one, come all solution for birds. Rather than swapping between high-calorie food in winter and lighter seeds in summer, use this mix year round. Great for busy gardener and comes in a range of quantities from 2 to 50 kilos.
Price £6.49 for 5kg
This Product Guide was last updated in January 2022 and we apologise if anything has changed in price or availability.