Bird feeding is a delightful hobby that brings joy to many and supports wildlife in your garden. In the UK, feeding birds not only helps sustain various bird populations but also allows people to engage with nature right from their doorstep. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about feeding wild birds in the UK, from understanding the basics to attracting specific bird species and maintaining feeders effectively.

Understanding Bird Feeding Basics

Why Feed Birds?

Feeding birds is crucial, especially during times when natural food sources are scarce. It helps sustain bird populations through harsh weather conditions and supports their breeding. By feeding birds, you also contribute to the biodiversity of your garden, creating a vibrant and lively environment. 

Wild birds can also add an aesthetic appeal to gardens not only with their vibrant colours and graceful movements but also through their melodic singing. The presence of birdsong can transform a garden into a serene and enchanting space. Studies have shown that listening to birdsong can significantly improve mental health, providing a sense of calm and well-being.

When to Feed Birds?

While feeding birds can be a year-round activity, certain times are particularly important. During winter, food is scarce, and providing high-energy foods can help birds survive cold nights. In spring and summer, feeding helps breeding birds and their chicks, ensuring they get the nutrition they need during this critical period.

Types of Bird Feeders

blue tit perching on wooden bird feeder, eating seed mix

Seed Feeders

Seed feeders are versatile and popular bird feeders designed to hold various types of bird seed, such as black sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, peanut granules, and seed mixes. These feeders often come in tube, hopper, or platform designs and attract a wide variety of birds, including finches, sparrows, and tits. Their structure typically includes perches and feeding ports, making it easy for birds to access the seeds.

Three blue tits perching suet feeder, eating yellow suet balls.

Suet Feeders

Suet feeders are specially designed to hold suet treats such as suet balls, suet blocks, and suet rolls. These feeders are especially popular during the colder months as suet provides a high-energy food source for birds. Typical visitors to suet feeders include woodpeckers, tits, and robins. Suet feeders often have a cage-like design that allows birds to cling while they feed.

Great-spotted woodpecker perching on peanut feeder, eating whole peanuts.

Peanut Feeders

Peanut feeders are designed to dispense whole peanuts or suet pellets, attracting birds that enjoy this high-protein food. These feeders often feature a mesh or wire design that holds the peanuts securely while allowing birds to peck at them. Woodpeckers, tits, and nuthatches are frequent visitors to peanut feeders.

Two goldfinches perching on yellow niger feeder, eating niger seed.

Niger Feeders

Niger feeders, also known as thistle feeders, are designed to hold tiny niger seeds, which are highly favoured by finches, especially goldfinches. These feeders typically have small feeding ports that prevent seed spillage and are often tube-shaped to accommodate the small size of the seeds. The design helps ensure that only small-beaked birds can access the seeds, minimising waste.

Robin perching on mealworm feeder.

Mealworm Feeders

Mealworm feeders provide a protein-rich food source, ideal for insect-eating birds. These feeders can hold live mealworms, dried mealworms, live waxworms, and dried calciworms. It often features dishes, trays, or small cages to contain the worms. Birds like robins, wrens, and blackbirds are particularly attracted to mealworm feeders.

Blue tit in a caged squirrel proof feeder, eating bird seed.

Squirrel-proof Feeders

Squirrel-proof feeders are specially designed to keep squirrels from stealing bird food. These feeders use various mechanisms, such as weight-activated perches, cages, or baffles, to deter squirrels while allowing birds to feed freely. They are an excellent choice for areas where squirrels are particularly persistent and can be used with a variety of bird foods to attract diverse bird species.

Robin perching on a mesh ground feeder on the grass, eating seed mix.

Ground Feeders

Ground feeders are simple platforms placed directly on the ground or slightly elevated. They are designed to attract ground-feeding birds such as robins, thrushes, and wrens. These feeders can hold a variety of foods, including seeds, suet, worms, and even fruit. Ground feeders are easy to access for a wide range of bird species and often include a mesh bottom to allow for drainage.

Best Foods for UK Birds

Black Sunflower Seeds & Sunflower Hearts

Sunflower Hearts: These are hulled sunflower seeds, offering all the nutritional benefits without the mess of shells. They are particularly attractive to smaller birds that might find it difficult to open seeds, such as goldfinches and blue tits.

Black Sunflower Seeds: These seeds are rich in oil, providing high energy and nutritional value for birds. The thin shells are easy for birds to crack open, making them a favourite among many species, including finches, tits, and sparrows.

Benefits: Both black sunflower seeds and sunflower hearts are excellent for attracting a wide variety of birds to your garden. They provide essential fats and proteins that help birds maintain energy levels, which is especially important during the breeding season and winter months.

Bucket of niger seeds, placed on the grass.

Niger (Thistle) Seeds

Niger seeds are small, high-oil seeds that are particularly favoured by finches, such as goldfinches and siskins. The seeds require specialised feeders with small ports to prevent spillage and waste. 

Benefits: Niger seeds are highly nutritious, providing essential fats and proteins. They support the high energy needs of small, active birds, especially during cold weather and migration periods.

Bucket of seed feeder bird mix, placed on the grass.

Seed Mixes

Seed mixes typically contain a variety of bird food such as seeds, peanuts, suet, and sometimes dried fruit. These mixes are designed to appeal to a wide range of bird species, offering an abundance of nutrition.

Benefits: Offering a diverse diet, seed mixes attract a greater variety of birds to your garden, promoting a healthy and balanced ecosystem. They provide a mix of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, catering to the dietary needs of different bird species. 

Bucket of yellow suet pellets, placed on the grass.

Suet Treats

Suet treats are made from beef suet mixed with ingredients like seeds, nuts, and dried insects. These high-energy food sources are especially beneficial in winter when natural food is scarce. Suet is also a great spring and summer feed when birds require more energy for the breeding season.

Benefits: Suet provides a concentrated source of energy, helping birds maintain their body heat during cold weather. It is particularly beneficial for insect-eating birds like woodpeckers, robins, tits, and nuthatches, supplementing their diet when insects are not readily available.

Bucket of whole peanuts, placed on the grass.

Peanuts

Peanuts are a high-protein, high-fat food that attracts a variety of birds, including woodpeckers, tits, and nuthatches. They can be offered in peanut feeders or mixed into seed blends.

Benefits: Peanuts are an excellent source of energy and nutrition, supporting birds' growth and reproductive health. They are especially valuable during the breeding season and winter, providing essential fats and proteins that help birds maintain their energy levels.

Seasonal Feeding Tips

Spring and Summer

During spring and summer, birds require extra protein for breeding and raising their young. This period is crucial for their reproductive success and the growth of chicks.

  • Offer mealworms: Live or dried mealworms provide an excellent source of protein. They are particularly beneficial for insectivorous birds like robins and blue tits.
  • Protein-rich seeds: Provide sunflower hearts and high-quality seed mixes that include peanuts and other protein-rich ingredients. These foods support the increased energy needs of parent birds and their chicks.
  • Freshwater: Ensure a consistent supply of fresh water for drinking and bathing, which is vital during the warmer months.
Robin perching on 3 suet blocks

Autumn

Autumn is a preparatory period for birds as they build up their fat reserves to survive the winter months.

  • High-energy foods: Offer foods that are rich in fats and oils, such as suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts. These help birds accumulate the energy they need to withstand the colder weather.
  • Diverse diet: Continue providing a variety of seeds and nuts to attract a wide range of species, helping them to diversify their diet before winter.
  • Fruit: Supplement their diet with fruits like apples and berries, which provide additional vitamins and nutrients.
Blue tit on perching on tripple feeder, filld with bird seed mix, suet balls, and sunflower seeds. Autumn leafs surrounding peanut.

Winter

Winter is the most challenging season for birds, as natural food sources become scarce and the cold temperatures increase their energy requirements.

  • High-fat foods: Suet treats, peanuts, and sunflower hearts are essential for maintaining birds' energy levels. These high-fat options are crucial for helping birds generate body heat.
  • Regular feeding: Ensure that feeders are kept full, as birds rely heavily on garden feeders during this time.
  • Ground feeding: Provide food on the ground for species that prefer foraging on the ground, such as robins and blackbirds.
  • Shelter and water: Offer shelter through birdhouses and maintain a supply of unfrozen water, which is vital for hydration and preening.
Blue tit perching on peanut feeder, covered in snow with a winter background.

By tailoring your bird feeding practices to the seasonal needs of UK birds, you can help them thrive year-round.

Additional Tips & Tricks for Bird Feeding

Creating a Bird-Friendly Garden

Incorporate a variety of plants that produce seeds, berries, and nectar. This creates a year-round food supply and enhances the garden's appeal to birds.

Placement of Feeders

Place feeders in safe locations, away from predators. Position them near cover, such as trees or shrubs, to provide a quick escape route for birds.

Water Sources for Birds

Provide fresh water for drinking and bathing. Birdbaths and shallow dishes of water can attract birds and keep them hydrated.

Cleaning and Hygiene

Regularly clean bird feeders to prevent the spread of diseases. Use a mild disinfectant and rinse thoroughly before refilling.