February is National Bird Feeding Month! One of the first things I like to do when I move is set up my bird table for feeding birds. It’s nothing fancy, and I knocked it up myself. All you need are two planks of wood, and a set up resembling a T shape. I like putting out scraps and seeds for the birds on top of the plank. Sometimes when I have coconuts, I make sure to tie them to the plank and watch the birds fly around the table, pecking at the coconuts to eat the white flesh. Little tits and sparrows use the coconut halves as swings, and it’s quite a treat to watch.
I think everyone with a scrap of garden deserves a bird table (that’s right; you’re doing yourself a favor). But not everything is good for birds. You need to know what food to feed birds. Stop feeding them bread and products similar to bread, such as bagels, biscuits, crackers etc. Yes, even the ducks. Bread and bread-like products make them sick, and it simply isn’t worth it. You may think you’re doing the right thing, but in fact, you’re harming them.
Feeding Birds Year-Round
There isn’t a set time to feed birds. Some people feed birds during the winter months to help them, as the winter months are lean months for birds. Some people feed birds all year long. I fall into the all year long category, simply because you never know when there might be a shortage of food. Sometimes food shortages can also occur during the spring or summer months. Setting up a bird table and feeding birds can help them immensely. Birds often feed their young from bird table scraps and offerings, so it’s important to ensure that the food you’re putting out is safe for birds and their young.
Spring & Summer
During the summer months, birds typically moult. The food they eat during the spring and summer is vastly different from the food they eat in the winter. During the summer they need to eat less fat and more protein. Offer them pinhead oatmeal, black sunflower seeds, soaked sultanas, raisins, and currants, halved grapes, halved pears and apples, mealworms, waxworms, mild grated cheese, mixes for insectivorous birds, and seed mixtures that do not contain peanuts. It is not advisable to feed peanuts to birds as they might choke on them, so ensure that the mixtures you buy don’t contain peanuts.
Fall & Winter
The winter months are lean months, and birds need fat to maintain their fat reserves and survive frosty nights. Ensure that you feed them twice daily, at the same time, so that they get used to the routine and come to your garden at feeding times. During stormy or bad weather, feed birds twice, once early in the morning, and once in the early afternoon. Black oil sunflower seeds, peanut butter, suet balls mixed with seed, commercially made fat bars, nyjer seeds, and white millet seeds are all good things to offer your feathered friends in the winter. Ensure that you keep the bird feeding station clean of snow; brush it off the feeding station after every storm. Similarly, ensure that any remaining food or seed mix is cleaned up so that you don’t attract the attention of other hungry animals such as rats or squirrels.
Squirrels can be very persistent, and are known to steal food that is meant for the birds. I like leaving food out for the squirrels (a favourite is corn on the cob, or cut up fruits and segmented oranges). But I set up a separate station where I feed squirrels so they are less likely to help themselves to the food I put out for the birds. This is a strategy that has worked well for me in the past, and I like feeding squirrels, so it all works out.
Don’t forget to put out water as well on your feeding stations; many birds don’t have water to drink during the winter. Change the water every day so that the water is always fresh.
I hope I’ve inspired you to start feeding birds all year long. Have fun!
Awanthi Vardaraj lives and writes in the port city of Chennai, in the south of India, where she runs her own small artisanal bakery and keeps a garden full of jasmine plants and herbs that she still cannot name. As a freelance writer, she mostly focuses on food, feminism, travel, mental health, and poverty. She also nurtures a deep love for the Oxford comma and the semicolon. Visit her website at www.awanthi.com and follow her on Twitter at AwanthiVardaraj.
How do you take care of our feathered friends? Do you find squirrels too pesky when you’re feeding birds? Share your tips below or on Facebook and Twitter.