Need a Second Mortgage to Feed Garden Birds...


Apologies as I'm sure this kind of question has been asked numerous times but a couple of months ago I moved to a rural property where the previous owners liked to feed the birds.  I've always loved watching birds too so continued feeding them.  The thing is, it has now got out of hand as I am am filling two large sunflower heart feeders ever day, sometimes even twice a day.  I'm also going through huge amounts of fat balls (30+ per week) plus nyger seeds which don't go down quite as fast.  We have quite a variety of birds but the most abundant are the gold finches, there are scores of them!  We also have quite a lot of siskin and sparrows, plus a few lesser redpoll, blue, coal and great tits, blackbirds, reed buntings, robins and green finches.

I don't really mind spending money on the bird food as the birds are so lovely to watch, however I'm concerned that they'll lose their ability to find their own food if they keep relying on me.  On the other hand, I feel really mean when the feeders are empty and they're all sat in the trees waiting for me to refill them.  

Just thought I'd ask for an expert opinion on how regularly I should put fresh feeders out.  I do rotate feeders and so clean them very often - I usually have spare full ones to hand so I can just run outside and swap them over quickly when they're empty. 

On a separate note, feeding the birds in my garden has awoken a new passion/hobby in me and I am now going out into the woods/hills/coast every day watching the birds.  It's so addictive and is great for your mental health, a lovely relaxing hobby with a bit of exercise thrown in to get to quite secluded places.  So exciting when you see a bird you've never seen before, although also frustrating at times because I am constantly hearing gold crests but am yet to see one.  Suppose that just adds to the fun of it though. 

Thanks in advance!


  • Hi,

    Unfortunately, the forum goes quiet from about March onwards due to its format, and webcam related running commentary. Your post may therefore have limited responses. I'll respond to 'bump' it up to the top of page 1 for now....

    There is no 'right answer' to your question. It very much depends on why you feed birds.

    I personally don't feed birds most of the year. I also limit the food types when I do. I have reduced what I put out to just niger. Reason is I have house martins, and any other food types pulls in predators like great spotted woodpeckers and sparrowhawks (indirectly due to increased bird presence), and house sparrows which steal martin nests.

    IMO, there is very limited evidence that random 24x7x365 supplementary bird feeding is good for conservation. There is clearly evidence, and common sense, that targetted supplementary feeding is good for conservation.e.g. as part of reintroductions (e.g. cirl buntings in Cornwall), or trials.

    You've written that you get enjoyment out of seeing & watching birds. I do too. It very much is down to the individual. Obviously, stuff like budget would also feed into the rational.

    Re goldcrests, best tip for seeing them is to keep an eye on evergreen trees. There's one singing near the top of a big tree in the garden here, and another singing near the top of a similarly big tree at work. Yew trees and hedges are another good place to see them. Might not see them while they're singing, but they're bound to pause and go off to forage.
  • Thanks for your reply Robbo, that's helpful.

    Funnily enough, about an hour after I posted I got my first great spotted woodpecker in the garden. I didn't realise these were a problem to the other birds though (I've a lot to learn!). I also didn't know about house sparrows stealing martin nests. We have quite a lot of house sparrows here, but have only seen martins in nearby fields but not my own garden.

    Thanks for the info re the goldcrest, I'm going for another trip into the woods at lunch to see if today's the day! Did get to see my first blackcap yesterday so that was a treat (plus what I think was a cute little wood mouse). It's all so amazing!
  • Like Robbo, I reduce feeding through the Spring and Summer. I have a large rural garden that is 'worked' for wildlife of all sorts, so there are plenty of wild patches, 'weeds' and fruiting trees, grass areas are kept at different heights. I am actually down to 2 small feeders at the the moment that I'm filling every third day. 1 Sunflower hearts and 1 small mixed seed, the garden is full of bird activity. Once the weather warms up and we have had some rain I will probably remove them. They are out due to the cold easterlies and dry ground.
    Wish I had House Martins

    Cin J

  • In reply to Germain:

    Thanks Germain. As mentioned, I haven't lived here long and I'm hoping to turn my garden into more of a natural wildlife haven. There are already quite a few cotoneasters which I believe are great but, as I'm not at all well up on gardening, I have no idea yet what everything else is. I know there are a few veg patches but, other than spring onions and sprouts, I don't know what's in them. Any tips on the best kinds of things to plant for the birds would be much appreciated as I'm completely clueless at the minute. My house is in a very rural area with very few properties so I think the entire population of local birds are coming to my feeders. My two cats don't seem to be deterring them at all.

  • Adrian Thomas blogs about gardening on here. RSPB staff member. Worth going through what he has posted so far. 'Gardening for wildlife' is the section.
  • Got a bit more time now to add a bit of info. Depends how big the garden is as to what can be done, but I'd try and ensure there is year round cover. That means some evergreens. Yew is an obvious option. Needs reading up on though as care needs to be taken, or at least considered. Wild cherry and bird cherry are both quite small trees that are great for bees as well as birds. Bullfinches find them every Winter/early Spring. A pond ideally, or a water feature. Thorny hedge/shrubs, like berberis or pyracantha that again are good for bees as well as birds. For goldfinches (and bees), teasel, evening primrose and perennial cornflower are good. As mentioned prev., I do put out niger in Winter (pair of siskins on it this morning), but goldies stick to the wildflower heads while they still have seeds. Means you could save money there....Loads more ideas and options which Adrian Thomas covers.
  • Here I tend to let the feeders run empty every so often, for two reasons.

    • To clean the feeders
    • To encourage the birds not to be dependant and maintain the ability to search for food

    While I know the ability to search for food shouldn't disappear, I just see it as making sure, though currently, we're not filling the feeders due to a grey squirrel infestation, resulting in a take over bid by the greys.


    Flickr Peak Rambler

  • Thanks for the replies and apologies for the delay in responding. Robbo, that's really useful re the gardening tips, especially for the gold finches because there are LOADS of them.

    A wildlife pond is definitely something I've been considering for a while so going to look into a good location for that.

    Thanks Mike B. Re your first point, I have so many feeders that I rotate them and therefore clean them regularly so that's not an issue but your second point is my main concern. I'm now putting fresh feeders out each morning and, if they eat it all, they don't get more until the next day. I'm sure sometimes they're telling me off when they're sat on top of the empty feeder squaking away! Goldfinches are very stroppy for such cute little birds!

    Thanks again everyone, I'm now off to find somewhere to post for camera advice (getting very obsessed!)...
  • maybe you could slow them down a bit by changing your feeder. some people have really long ones with 4 or more perches and holes on them, perhaps you could just get one with 2 holes

    with my feeder i found that some birds like parakeets would just sit on the perches all day, but when i put a cage on it slowed them down because they didnt like hanging off the cage so much. little birds could still get inside fine.

    i ended up buying a fat ball feeder with a cage around it as well, which at least keeps off bigger birds like magpies. my great spotted woodpecker can still feed on it okay though