Choosing a Bird Bath

Many people who supply wild bird food also like to provide a bird bath. There are a huge variety of bird baths available to buy. These can add functionality to a garden as well as being very attractive, especially the sculptured and ornamental ones. Bird baths offer a safe environment for birds and other garden visitors to drink, clean their feathers and bathe.

Some examples of the types of bird baths on the market include rafts, wrap-around, antique and the more modern ceramic style. There really is something for every taste.

Before selecting a bird bath to buy, consider the following.

Design

With so many different types of bird bath available, choose a design that complements the overall style of the garden. This will ensure it blends into the surroundings nicely.

Material

Choose a material that works best for you and your needs.

Depth of Bowl

A good bird bath will provide a variety of depths for the birds using it. Different birds have different needs and preferences regarding water depth. A bath with a depth variation of about 1 to 4 inches is best. Choosing a bath with sloping sides can facilitate this. The surface will need to be rough in order to enable the birds to climb in and out easily.

Size

As bird baths often become a focal point in a garden, it is important to choose a size appropriate to the dimensions of the available space. The type of birds you are hoping to attract will also have a bearing on the size of bird bath chosen. Some birds are solitary and like to bathe alone, while others, such as starlings, are sociable and like to bathe in groups and therefore require a larger bird bath in which to do so.

Cleaning

It is really important to keep bird baths clean. The simpler the design of bird bath, the easier it will be to keep the water fresh and the bath itself free from algae, bird droppings and other contaminants. Regular cleaning using diluted disinfectant and a stiff brush is effective. The bath should be emptied regularly and topped up with fresh water.

Height

Different-sized birds have different preferences regarding the height of a bird bath. As a rule, bigger birds prefer to bathe closer to the ground than smaller ones.

Visibility

Although it is nice to be able to see the birds easily, the bath should be positioned near protective cover such as shrubs and small trees ? this is not where you would place wild bird food, however. This ensures the birds are kept safe from nearby predators.

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Choosing Garden Bird Feeders

There are a variety of different feeders available on the market. The type chosen will come down to a number of factors, including the sort of food supplied, the proposed location of the feeder, the size and type of garden and which birds it is intended for.

Tube feeders are suitable for wild bird seed, while mesh feeders work better for things such as peanuts. If you are supplying suet, another type of feeder will be required.

As different birds have different preferences, it can work really well to have a few different feeders around the garden. Before choosing a specific feeder, however, do a little research to determine which birds may visit. Aside from keeping a watchful eye on the wildlife in and around the garden, clues can be found in the flora and fauna within the garden itself. For example, groundsel attracts sparrows, which tend to be ground feeders, so a tray feeder may be a good idea.

Hanging Feeders

There is a huge choice of hanging feeders available to buy. They come in a wide range of sizes and designs. One important thing to consider when choosing a feeder is hygiene and how easy it will be to keep it clean and free from contaminants. Additional considerations might include whether or not to choose a hanging feeder with a tray to catch dropped seed, or to allow the wild bird seed to drop straight to the floor, enabling ground-feeding birds such as blackbirds and sparrows to polish it off. As squirrels love hanging feeders, especially those filled with peanuts, some people like to ensure they buy one that is squirrel-proof. It can be fascinating watching a squirrel attempt to access the wild bird seed, but they can cause a significant amount of damage if not kept in check.

Ground Tables

Ground tables are frequented by a variety of species, including sparrows, blackbirds, robins, doves, pigeons and wagtails. Purchasing a ground feeder such as a tray will ensure good hygiene can be observed. The tray can easily be cleaned and old food removed before the food is replenished. Tray feeders are suitable for all sorts of wild bird food, such as suet, seed, fruit, bacon rind and water-soaked bread. Leaving food on the ground at night can attract pests, particularly rats, so it is a good idea to ensure only one day’s worth of food is supplied at a time or the tray is removed before dark. Ground trays can be left on a variety of surfaces, including decking, patios and lawns.

Raised Bird Tables

Many smaller birds, such as the tree sparrow, pied wagtails and the siskin, like to feed on raised tables. However, they can also attract hawks, magpies and kestrels that are on the look out for smaller birds. When positioning a raised table feeding station, ensure it is not too close to closed cover where predators can hide. Again, it is important to keep the table clean, remove old food and replenish supplies regularly.

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How to Prevent Squirrels from Stealing Wild Bird Seed

It can be really fun and interesting watching squirrels in the garden. However, they can scare smaller garden birds and many people look for ways to deter them from eating the wild bird seed they are supplying.

There are many new and innovative types of feeders designed to be ‘squirrel-proof’, but the creatures are very determined and can often outsmart these. Unfortunately, squirrels can also cause quite significant damage to both land and property. In addition, they are frequently noisy, especially in their mating seasons.

As their incisor teeth do not stop growing, squirrels must gnaw almost continuously to keep them worn down to a manageable size. They have huge appetites, consuming approximately a kilogram of food in just a week.

Squirrels are very difficult to outsmart. They are extremely adept at climbing, jumping and balancing. Polished steel structures are no obstacle and they are able to travel more than eight feet through the air between trees or landing posts. Their tails allow then to balance and easily get across wire or lengths of taut rope. They are also well equipped to both dig and swim.

There are a number of options for those who find squirrels a nuisance. Aside from adopting some of the tactics listed below, setting up a feeding station especially for squirrels can sometimes help. If the squirrels continue to cause a lot of problems, it is possible to enlist the help of a Squirrel Control Service, which will be in a position to relocate the squirrel and give some preventative advice.

Some of the most useful tactics include purchasing a squirrel-proof feeder. This should be hung in the centre of the lawn at a distance of at least ten feet from surrounding bushes and tree branches. A pole system can be used. It is worth bearing in mind that ‘squirrel-free’, ‘squirrel-resistant’ or ‘squirrel0proof’ do not necessarily mean the squirrel will not be able to access the food. It might mean that the feeder is guaranteed against damage by squirrels or that the animal will find the feeder more difficult, but not impossible to get into. Other feeders will stop squirrels stealing the food by shutting away the seed when the squirrel lands on it.

Using a squirrel baffle, a squirrel dome or other device to stop them accessing the wild bird food in hanging bird feeders is another way to deter them from visiting.

Ground-feeding on trays as an alternative to hanging feeders might also work. It is possible to buy various sizes of guards to place over the trays. These give the birds access to the food, while preventing squirrels from reaching it.

Ultimately, the type of feeder or deterrent chosen will also be dependent upon what species of bird they are intended to attract and what sort of food will be provided. Therefore it is important to carry out careful research before deciding which type of feeder to purchase.

Applying grease to poles to make climbing them more difficult can also be quite effective.

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What to Feed Garden Birds

When setting up feeding stations, it is important to cater for lots of different species of birds. Here are a few ideas as to what you can use.

Fat
Cooking fat is not suitable for birds. Use suet or lard instead, as they do not run or smear and cannot harbour bacteria.

Tinned Dog Food
Dog or cat food from a tin can be a good alternative to earthworms, which can be difficult to find in the warm summer months.

Rice
Unsalted cooked rice is good for all species of birds. Doves, pheasants and pigeons will also eat dried rice.

Sunflower Seeds
These are great all year round and very popular with many species of bird. The black sunflower seeds are best as they have a higher oil content than the stripy ones. Sunflower hearts are another popular option.

Wild Bird Seed Mixes
There are various wild bird seed mixes available for bird tables and feeders. There are also ground-feeding versions. These typically contain flaked maize, peanut granules and sunflower seeds.

Dunnocks, collared doves, house sparrows, finches and reed buntings favour smaller seeds such as millet, while the sunflower seeds and peanuts attract greenfinches and tits. Blackbirds love flaked maize. Pinhead oatmeal is very versatile and is enjoyed by lots of different birds.

Peanuts
Peanuts are very high in fat and loved by house sparrows, siskins, great spotted woodpeckers, greenfinches, nuthatches and tits. Grated or crushed nuts are great for wrens, dunnocks and robins. Never offer wild birds dry roasted or salted peanuts. Also take care to purchase peanuts from reputable seller as this will guarantee they do not contain aflatoxin, which is not good for birds.

Nyjer Seeds
Siskins and gold finches favour nyjer seeds. As they are high in oil they are really good for birds that need a high-fat diet to provide them with enough energy to survive, especially during cold winters. These small black seeds require the use of a specialist feeder.

Bird Cakes

It is easy to make your own food bars and bird cakes. Do this by choosing a variety of ingredients, such as nuts, cheese, cake, dried fruit, oatmeal and seeds, and use melted lard or suet to bind the mixture together. Aiming to use two-thirds mixture to one-third fat makes for the perfect consistency. Allow it to set in a suitable container, such as an empty coconut shell or a plastic cup. It is possible to buy fat balls. Cut them out of the nylon mesh before putting them out as smaller birds can become caught up in it and injured.

Live Food
Birds such as pied wagtails, blue tits and robins are attracted by mealworm, which is perfect to use for year-round feeding. You can breed your own, but this is quite difficult to do and many people prefer just to buy them from local suppliers. Birds cannot eat discoloured or dead mealworm due to the risk of salmonella and other problems, so take care to ensure your supply is fresh. An alternative to mealworm is wax worm. These cost a little more, but are superb for the birds. You can also buy ant pupae, softbill and insectivorous food.

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Storing Bird Food

People always have lots of questions regarding feeding wild birds ? anything from what type of wild bird food to supply to how often to provide it. Two of the most important factors will be where the feeding station is positioned and how fresh the food is when you offer it.

Feeders should be positioned away from bushes or other close cover, especially if there are cats in the area. Care should also be taken to ensure they are not placed too near to bird nests or boxes.

Keeping wild bird seed fresh is all down to good housekeeping and planning. Follow all the rules laid out below and you will soon have a fantastic variety of birds visiting your garden.

Most reputable bird food suppliers will ensure their stock is not out of date. Given the right storage conditions, bird food should be fine for six months or more.

Ensuring bird seed is stored correctly is not too difficult. It must be kept cool and dry. It is also important to keep it free from pests. If you buy larger quantities of bird seed, it is a good idea to transfer feed into an airtight storage bin or other suitable container as soon as you get it home. If you are only purchasing a small amount at a time, it should be perfectly fine left in its original packaging. It is possible to buy various containers and storage bins from garden centres and wild bird food specialists.

Once every couple of weeks, or perhaps once a month, give any remaining seed in the container a good mix around. This prevents it becoming stagnant or stale. When adding fresh food to the containers, always make sure you first empty it of any older seed.

If you are keeping sunflower hearts and peanuts, following the same rules for other wild bird seed will ensure they stay fresh and perfectly edible for your garden visitors.

For those wishing to provide suet or fat balls, remember to keep supplies well away from excessive heat or direct sunlight. It is advisable to keep them in the fridge, especially during the summer months.

Taking these simple steps will mean the food you buy lasts a long time and is the very best quality it can be when you put it out for your garden birds.

Finally, don?t forget that wild bird food specialists are always willing to help and to offer advice regarding bird food. They will also be happy to advise you about almost any aspect of looking after wild birds.

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Providing Wild Birds with Water

While a lot of people provide the birds visiting their gardens with wild bird food and other essentials, they often forget the importance of also making sure clean water is always available.

Water is important for birds to both drink and bathe in. It is especially vital to regularly supply water during cold weather, when natural reservoirs can be iced over, and when it is hot, as it can evaporate very quickly.

Drinking
Birds do not require as much water as mammals because of their lack of sweat glands. Even so, respiration causes them to lose water and they need to replace this by drinking a minimum of twice each day.

Some birds, such as those that eat insects, are able to get a lot of their water from food. However, those with a drier, more seed-based diet will need to take in extra water by drinking. It is worth remembering this when leaving out wild bird food at feeding stations.

Smaller birds are able to access water from the outer edges of ponds and from shallow streams. In addition, they are able to collect water droplets from leaves in woodland areas. The majority of birds will dip their beaks into a body of water and swallow by flinging back their heads. A small number, including swifts and swallows, will majestically dive down and scoop a beak full of water without interrupting their flight.

Bathing
It is vital that birds are able to look after their feathers and maintain them in good condition. Bathing is one essential way of loosening up any dirt and making feather-preening easier. Birds will very carefully cover their feathers with preen gland oil to keep them waterproof and insulated.

One of the easiest ways to ensure birds have access to fresh water is to get a bird bath. A good one will be robust but fairly light to allow it to be cleaned and refilled. In order to ensure it is accessible for several different species of bird, it should be sloping, providing a variable depth of 2.5cm to 10cm. The edge and other surfaces ideally need to be rough to allow birds to grip them without sliding about.

A bird bath does not need to be an elaborate or expensive. Although shop-bought baths are more aesthetically pleasing for us, the birds will be more than happy with an old (but clean) dustbin lid or a plant saucer with a stone placed at the centre.

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The Top Three Ways to Keep Cats Away

Your garden may be the perfect place to attract birds to, but it can also be a death trap for our feathered friends, particularly because of your own or your neighbours’ cats. However, there is a range of straightforward, easy to employ measures that can be put in place to protect garden birds ? particularly when leaving food out for them such as wild bird seed.

1. Make Sure Bird Seed Is Safely Placed

Failing to make sure wild bird seed and other food left out for birds is safely placed is in effect just baiting a trap for a cat to use. Avoid, where possible, placing food on the lawn or ground, particularly near ?cover? such as a low bush, long grass or borders ? where a cat could easily lie in wait to spring from. Additionally, when placing feeders high off the ground, look around to check there are no places nearby that a cat could jump from.

2. Make Sure the Bird Table Is Protected

A bird table can be effectively and humanely protected from a cat’s natural instinct to hunt by placing prickly clippings (holly) or bedding plants around its base to deter cats from sitting or lying in wait underneath. Another method might be to affix a downward-facing cone, old biscuit tin or other obstacle to prevent the cat from climbing up it. A squirrel baffle might be put to good use in this way. Another way to prevent cats climbing up to the bird table or feeding station is to apply Vaseline or edible oil to the pole ? making sure that whatever you use is not poisonous to cats, birds or other wildlife visiting your garden.

3. Prevent Cats from Getting into Your Garden

Another way to keep feeding birds safe in your garden is to prevent neighbours’ cats from getting into your garden in the first place , unless you have a cat yourself, in which case you could always set up a “safe area” around the feeding station.

To make a safe area, mark out a part of your garden that you wish to keep free of cats with a fence using, for example, chicken wire. Make sure the fence is constructed with a slight outward lean to make it difficult for the cats to climb.

You could also top your perimeter fence with plastic barrier fencing mesh to stop cats from getting a good foothold once they’ve climbed it.

You could stretch taut string or wire along the top of your fence to make it difficult for cats to balance or walk along the top of it.

Custom-designed plastic spikes, which come in easy to install strips, can be placed along the top of your fences, the nest box roof or any nearby shed roofs. While not causing any injury to any cats that stand on them, they act as a very effective deterrent by stopping cats from walking on them.

Plastic bottles, half filled with water, can be placed in garden borders. Light reflecting in them is also a deterrent to cats. This also works with old CDs strung on trees or across flowerbeds.

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Fledgling Wild Birds

From April, it is common to see fledglings wondering about. They often appear to be scared and wailing plaintively. Despite their frightened appearance, these fledglings are rarely in trouble. They are simply awaiting the return of their parents, who have gone off in search of food. As such, intervening could actually cause more problems and significantly reduce the chances of the bird surviving. It is necessary to observe a fledgling for a number of hours before you can be sure they have actually been abandoned. Therefore as long as the fledgling is not in any immediate danger, it is best to leave it where it is and watch from afar. If it is necessary to move the fledgling out of danger ? out of the path of cars, for example ? then do so, but make sure you do not move it far from its original position. If you move it too far, the parents may be unable to find it when they return.

If you do consider it necessary to relocate the bird, take care not to squeeze it. They have very fragile bones and internal organs, which could break or rupture easily. Their beaks and claws are incredibly sharp, so beware.

If you are absolutely sure that a fledgling has been abandoned, it may be appropriate to help it. However, before taking any action, remember that there may be a good reason why the parents have left it. It might be deformed, injured or unwell. Under these circumstances, the parents will often choose to let nature take its course.

Next Steps

If you decide to take action and help the bird, consider whether you will look after it yourself or contact a bird or wildlife sanctuary to undertake the care. Bear in mind that sanctuaries tend to have access to better equipment and expertise.

Very badly injured or ill birds are unlikely to struggle and will probably allow themselves to be gently picked up. For those with less severe injuries, you might need to cover them with a light towel or blanket before attempting to lift them.

Panic-stricken birds should be placed in a safe, dark, well-ventilated and quiet environment, where they can stay warm and dry. A cardboard box with ventilation holes works well as this can also be used when transporting the bird should you wish to take it to a sanctuary for treatment. The RSPB and the RSPCA can offer advice as to what action to take and where to get help, if necessary.

If you choose to care for the bird at home, a proper bird cage will be required, with a perch and a supply of the appropriate wild bird seed or other food.

Feeding fledglings is hard work as they require food frequently ? about every two hours. Depending upon the species, they may eat wild bird seed or insects. Older fledglings should be able to help themselves to food, but younger ones might need to be hand-fed by placing a small amount of food in its mouth.

When the bird begins flapping its wings and getting restless, it is time to return it to the wild. Place the cage outside in a safe place and allow the bird to fly away when it is ready.

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Growing a Wildlife Garden

In order to encourage birds and other wildlife to visit your garden, why not try leaving a small section of it to nature and also supply some wild bird food? Here are some ideas.

Teasel
Goldfinches love teasel. Identified by its pink and purple flowers, spiny heads and prickly stems, teasel flowers in late spring or sometimes slightly earlier. They are bi-annual and easily self-setting once well established.

Dandelion
The famous yellow-flowered dandelion is a favourite. If not devoured by the birds, this hardy little plant will transform into a beautiful silver halo of seeds to be scattered far and wide by the wind.

Greater Plantain
Found commonly at roadsides and paths where the soil is compacted, greater plantain, or rats’ tails, can be recognised by the long spikes on which the seeds grow. Greater plantain is also often seen growing among crops and grasslands.

Lavenders
Apart from their medicinal benefits, these fragrant plants are great for attracting a whole host of different wildlife. Birds eat the seeds they produce, and it was recently discovered that by lining their nests with it, blue tits are able to provide a sterile, bacteria-free environment for their young. As such, the plant has been linked to an increased survival rate for these chicks.

Honeysuckle
This is a popular climbing plant and, given the right pruning, can become very dense. This makes honeysuckle a perfect nest site and a great place for birds to roost overnight. Honeysuckle flowers are sweet-smelling and attract bees, butterflies and various types of moth. The juicy berries produced are enjoyed by warblers, thrushes and bullfinches.

Honesty
Attractive to finches, honesty is recognised by its unique oval-shaped, semi-transparent, silvery seed heads.

Evening Primrose
A great choice for nature gardens, evening primrose, or evening star as it is also known, draws bees, butterflies and moths. The yellow flowers open in the evenings only, hence its name.

Groundsel
Groundsel can be found in hedgerows and verges and is loved by sparrows and finches. This plant would make a great addition to any garden to supplement wild bird food and other scraps supplied.

Cornflower
This is a truly lovely plant. The flowers are very colourful and the resulting seeds are popular with tits, sparrows and finches. Unfortunately, there has been a steady decline and it is now considered endangered ? it can be found at just three sites in the UK.

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What to Avoid When Feeding Wild Birds

Leaving food out for birds is very important, especially during cold weather when natural supplies are low. Birds will benefit from a selection of wild bird food, seeds, peanuts, bird cakes and live food. But what should be avoided?

Polyunsaturated Margarines or Vegetable Oils
Birds require a lot of saturated fat to ensure they have sufficient energy to keep warm, especially in the winter months. Polyunsaturated fats are not a suitable alternative. In addition, the soft nature of the fat means birds can very easily get it on their wings, which can negatively affect the insulation and waterproofing of the feathers.

Cooking Fat
Left-over fat is not good for birds. Not only is its soft consistency bad for their feathers, but it is also the perfect bacterial breeding ground. The salt content of cooking fat may also be high, especially if it has been drained from meat and additional salt has been added during the cooking process.

Milk
Birds should never be offered milk, as their guts do not contain the necessary enzymes to allow them to digest it. Feeding a bird with milk could cause acute stomach upsets and possibly even kill it.

Coconut
Once traces of coconut milk have been rinsed from a fresh coconut, it can be hung out in its shell for birds to pick at. However, desiccated coconut is very dangerous for birds as it can expand inside their stomachs, causing death.

Cat and Dog Food
Tinned dog and cat food can be good as an alternative to earthworms when they are difficult to reach during the warm summer months. To bulk up the mixture, wild bird food can be added. However, leaving out dry food is not advisable due to the risk of birds choking.

Porridge
If you are putting out porridge oats, they should never be offered cooked as they can harden and stick to the beaks of birds. However, dry oats are enjoyed by a variety of species and are fine. As with any dried cereal, put out little and often and always ensure there is a supply of drinking water nearby but not close enough for the cereal to become wet and pulpy.

Stale or Mouldy Food
While the majority of moulds are not considered harmful to birds, a small number are known to trigger respiratory infections. Therefore it is recommended that putting out mouldy food is avoided altogether. Stale food can harbour bacteria such as salmonella, which can be deadly for some birds. Always remove food that has turned stale or mouldy from bird tables quickly.

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