Feeding Birds In Spring
Spring is a busy time for birds. With breeding season underway birds will be using a lot of energy building their nests, defending their territory, laying and incubating eggs, and raising their young. Birds that have arrived in the UK from warmer climates will also have exerted a lot of energy during their migrations and will need to refuel before starting breeding.
The food you provide to your garden birds can have a big impact on their reproductive success and the survival of their young.
Although some natural food will start to become available, if the winter has been long, wet, or very cold, then there may be a shortage. So if you have been feeding birds over the winter then it makes sense to continue feeding them into the spring so they don’t need to waste energy and go in search of new sources of food.
Many garden birds are insectivores which means insects make up a large proportion of their diet. In early spring if the ground is still hard birds may struggle to extract insects and worms from the soil so providing them with a supply of mealworms can help them get the protein and energy they need in the spring.
You can offer them dried or live mealworms either on their own or combined in seed mixes. Once chicks have hatched it’s better to soak dried mealworms or crush them up to prevent the young birds choking on them.
You need to be careful with fat in the spring as on warmer days fat can melt and go rancid. Soft fat can also smear on birds’ feathers which can prevent from staying waterproof and birds will find it more difficult to keep their feathers clean.
On cooler days it is fine to leave our fat balls or suet pellets which will provide a much-needed boost of energy for your garden birds. Remove any netting from fat balls as birds can get their feet or tongue caught in it which can lead to injury or even death.
Seed mixes are a great all-year round bird food. Look out for no-mess or no-grow bird food which has been formulated to remove husks that will be discarded by birds and which can attract vermin. Beware of buying cheaper bird food that may contain a lot of fillers such as wheat or maize which add little nutritional value. Instead choose seed mixes comprised of sunflower seeds and hearts, pinhead oats, millet, and kibbled peanuts.
Also available are nesting and fledgling bird food mixes which are packed with protein, and the essential vitamins and minerals needed for egg production and growing young birds.
It is possible to feed peanuts to birds in breeding season; you just need to buy kibbled peanuts, crush up whole peanuts, or use a steel mesh bird feeder so birds can only peck out small pieces, as baby birds can choke on large pieces of nut. A feeder with holes of about 6mm is ideal. Always buy your peanuts from a reputable bird food supplier and which are guaranteed to be aflatoxin-free. Do not use peanuts meant for human consumption.
Peanut butter has recently become popular for feeding to birds as it’s convenient and leaves no mess. Again, buy specially formulated bird peanut butter and do not use peanut butter meant for us as it can be high in salt and may contain aflatoxin.
Fruit such as bananas, grapes, apples, pears, berries, and raisins is a good source of energy in the spring, particularly for ground-feeding birds. Birds will happily eat fruit that has over-ripened or is bruised or damaged that we might not eat.
Wash fruit before you leave it out to remove any pesticides on the skin and cut it up into small chunks. You can scatter it on the ground or in a ground feeder, or place it in a suet cage or on a spike-feeder. Children will have fun making garlands of fruit which you can drape over bushes or trees to give your garden birds a treat. On hotter days fruit can go rotten or ferment so remove any pieces that don’t get eaten.
Natural sources of water will be much more abundant, but it is still a good idea to leave out a fresh supply of water in your garden for birds, particularly if you’re lucky enough to have birds nesting in your garden.
Water nearby means they don’t need to go too far from the nest to drink and bathe which could leave their eggs or hatchlings vulnerable to predators.
As always ensure your bird feeders and bird baths are kept clean, sweep up any dropped food at the end of each day, and remove any food that has turned rancid or rotten. You should thoroughly wash and disinfect your bird feeders at least once a week to prevent the spread of disease.