THE feeding of garden birds has become very popular and has been credited with helping to maintain wild bird populations. A much bigger range of feeders and feeding materials is available and the casual throwing out of a few crusts now seems very antiquated.
Foods for wild birds are based on nuts and seeds and, in some cases, added fats. These are intended for seed-feeding species, which are mostly the birds we want to visit. The seed and nut-feeders, such as bluetits, finches and siskins, are more acrobatic in flight and in taking food from nut-feeders.
Some garden birds are not as agile and must feed from a flat bird table, or even just from the ground, and include robins, blackbirds and various sorts of thrushes. Sometimes thrushes will only feed at ground level, along with wrens and dunnocks.
Most people who feed birds are not too concerned about having a wide range of birds in the garden and they mainly want the active species that are fun to watch, especially if the feeders are placed near a window.
Bird feeders can create problems. Big birds such as crows and magpies can rule the roost, especially in a rural garden, quickly gobbling up food from a bird table, and chasing other birds away. It is difficult to deter these big birds, short of covering a bird table with mesh that allows access for smaller species.
Squirrels are increasingly becoming a problem on nut feeders, which they simply break open, and on bird tables. This is a significant problem in other countries and some manufacturers now offer squirrel-proof feeders. Bird food laced with chilli powder is used to deter squirrels, the chilli apparently not bothering the birds.
Bird feeding stations can become a focus for predators. There has been a big increase in raptor birds around the country and hawks often swoop through a garden in rural areas, intent on ambushing feeding birds. In towns, cats stalk bird tables for a chance to kill an unwary bird.
When setting up bird feeders, make sure there is a big, bushy tree or shrub close by for a quick escape. Bird tables and bird feeders should be washed down and disinfected from time to time as bird diseases can be spread inadvertently.
Apart from their beauty, movement and song, garden birds help to control pests such as caterpillars, which are avidly eaten by bluetits, and slugs and snails which are important food for blackbirds and thrushes -- the best singers!