Monday, 3 December 2012

Feeding Birds In Your Garden

Goldfinch by Fran O'Connell

As winter draws in the days are shortening and the weather is getting colder. This diminishes the feeding opportunities for birds in two respects. Firstly, the amount of food available reduces as winter progresses. Secondly, with the reduced daylight hours the actual time available for feeding is more limited. The colder weather also uses up a bird’s energy resources more quickly making feeding and availability of food so much more important. Thus by providing safe regular food householders can make a real difference to the well being of our feathered friends. Indeed, in severe cold weather conditions feeding can make the difference between their survival or otherwise.
By attracting birds into our gardens it also gives us the chance to observe them at close quarters from the comfort of our homes. Thus the opportunity presents itself to observe various species feeding together and to compare their various plumages. Watching their antics, squabbles and different feeding strategies leads to endless enjoyment and even a little serious study. The photographer should also have many good chances for an excellent shot.

Siskin by Andrew Malcolm

Birdwatch Ireland has been conducting a winter garden bird survey for a number of years. The results for the 2011 winter (ranked as gardens most frequently visited) was as follows:

1 Robin
  9   Goldfinch
17 Pied wagtail
25 Long-tailed tit
2 Blackbird
10   Coal tit
18 Wood pigeon
26 Lesser redpoll
3 Blue tit
11   House sparrow
19 Collared dove
27 Bullfinch
4 Chaffinch
12   Greenfinch
20 Hooded crow
28 Sparrow hawk
5 Great tit
13   Dunnock
21 Blackcap
29 Fieldfare
6 Magpie
14   Wren
22 Redwing
30 Feral pigeon
7 Starling
15   Jackdaw
23 Mistle thrush
31 Goldcrest
8 Song thrush
16   Rook
24 Siskin
32 Brambling

Obviously not all of these species will occur in every garden but the majority may do so over the course of the winter.
Birdwatch Ireland conducts their survey each winter and for those interested in participating this winter details are on their web site as are results of previous surveys.


Great Tit by Liam Cahill
Birds may be fed a wide range of foodstuffs. Among the most popular (from the birds perspective) are peanuts, nyjer seed and sunflower seed. These are high in energy and oil and will readily attract a variety of species including siskins, redpoll and goldfinch. The disadvantage of these is their cost. In recent years they have increased massively in price and consideration should be given to less costly alternatives. These include flaked maize, flaked barley and rolled oats along with commercially prepared wild birdseed. Fat balls are very attractive to a variety of species along with being very nutritious. They can be purchased or prepared at home. Apples (windfalls) are very popular with thrushes and blackbirds and readily attract blackcaps. Raisins, cake and boiled rice are also very acceptable.
In cold weather naturally occurring water freezes. Birds still need to drink and a supply of unfrozen water may prove a lifesaver. Remember to make fresh water available during cold spells.

Blackbird by Fran O'Connell

Bird feeders are a very efficient method of feeding smaller birds and conserving peanuts and expensive seed such as nyjer and sunflower. Bird tables are an attractive way of presenting food and observing the action. A note of caution – equipment needs to be regularly cleaned and sterilised to prevent the spread of disease. Some species will not use feeders or bird tables so it is necessary to spread some food directly on to the ground.


The recent highlight was the discovery by Colum Flynn of a Blyth’s reed warbler at Helvick. This is the first record for Waterford. Unfortunately the bird proved extremely difficult to see while calling continuously from cover.
Other birds of note seen included yellow-browed warbler, osprey and redstart while minke and fin whales, common dolphin and common (harbour) seals were present along the coast. Thrushes, ducks, geese, swans, and divers are now returning here for the winter.

Lesser Redpoll by Liam Cahill

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