Food during the breeding season

Hello everyone. We are new to birdwatching and would love some advice on what to offer during the breeding season. So far over the winter we have been putting out sunflower seeds, peanuts, dried mealworms and suet coconuts in our tiny London garden to great success. As I write this there is a goldfinch lazily tossing sunflower seeds over it’s shoulder!

There is a pair of long-tailed tits nesting next door who visit our feeders and I would like to know if there are any particular foods which we could add to their natural foraging that would help them during the breeding season. 

In terms of what to avoid: the peanuts are currently in a mesh feeder, but I was thinking of taking that down soon as I have heard that baby birds can choke if the pieces are too big. Does this sound right? I was also wondering if I ought to soak the mealworms?

Thank you for your expertise and advice!

  • Hello Ellie and Will, welcome from up in Caithness at the very top of Scotland. Folks have their own views about feeding and what to feed. This is what I do and find it successful. I feed all year round, premium seed, sunflower hearts, Niger seed, peanuts, fat balls/cakes. My sunflower hearts, Niger seed and peanuts get eaten, I never have any waste. Outwith the breeding season, I throw down whole peanuts, but from now until nesting is completely over they are in mesh feeders. I have dried mealworms for the robins, (they also love suet pieces) I have never used the live worms, don't know if I could work with them! That is a sure way to get the Robin to be your friend, they maybe will even hand feed for you. Folks in different parts of the country will feed foods others don't, as they find their birds will not eat it, and it gets wasted. I also put out apples and grapes, that have gone a bit soft, the blackbirds love them. You can make your own pastry, cheap and easy to make, shops own brand flour and fat, half fat to flour mix, in to mixture add seed, sunflour hearts, suet, grated cheese, chopped fruit, chopped peanuts, whatever you have to hand, add a splash of water and mix just as you would for human pastry. Leave a few hours in the fridge, you can roll and shape to fit a mesh feeder, or make your own wee containers from empty yoghurt pots and fill those, fill coconut shells, or even pull small pieces of pastry and squeeze round branches in the trees or bushes. They love it,but beware you will have to keep making it once they discover it!! Another thing is to have plenty of water for the birds to bath and drink from.

    Anything you want to look for, if you type in the white search bar the top of the page, you should find posts with the subject. Type in Hazy's pastry as an example, the third post down called Pastry shop open, scroll down to the bottom of the page and go back to page one and see the story from one of our forum friends, about her pastry making. Lots of help available so just ask and someone should get back to you. Good luck.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • In reply to Catlady:

    Dear Catlady,

    Thank you for your wisdom! The pastry is in the fridge!
  • You could try crushed oystershell, which will provide calcium for laying eggs.
  • In reply to EllieandWill:

    Well done you, you will have to let us know how how it is received! I bet it will not last long

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • This is a really interesting thread thanks. After spotting a mouse on my makeshift bird table today (I started using it five months ago for the robin who didn’t seem to be able to get on to the hanging feeder) I decided that maybe I should take the bird table away and just use the hanging feeders. I don’t mind one mouse but i don’t want it to give any germs to the birds. I think it has been attracted by the dried mealworms that I have put out recently. I soak them overnight and it makes them smell like gravy. I have also taken to pouring the water away in the garden because I don’t like the smell inside which has also probably attracted them. 

    I wondered whether to continue with the meal worms as I really don’t like handling them so I looked up nutritional properties of different bird foods and found the following which I was quite surprised by.

    kibbled peanuts: protein 24%, fat 45%, fibre 15%
    sunflower hearts: protein 23.5%, fat 55.4%, fibre 11.8%
    suet pellets: protein 10.6%, fat 24%, fibre 0.3%
    Dried Mealworms: 53%, fat 28%, fibre 6%

    The suet pellets don’t seem that nutritious even though the birds seem to really like them. Also when reading the ingredients it seems they have things like ash in them and the main fat is beef. The actual mealworm, insect or fruit content is about 0.4% 

    Now I’m unsure what is best for them!

    I also worry with the dried mealworms, even if soaked, if they are too long for nestlings and they could choke on them. 

    I would really appreciate your thoughts and advice! Many thanks 


  • Hi Robyn, interesting statistics. Probably a good idea to stop pouring the water in the garden, as the smell and dropped food could well have enticed the mouse, and if there is one, that could turn into ?? Wherever your table is situated, on concrete, paving, grass, keep underneath well cleaned or if there is soil under the feeders keep that turned over, not only will this help air the soil and rotate new soil to the top soil, it will mix in any droppings and food that has been dropped.

    I have never used live mealworms, I don't think I could handle working with them to be honest. I have a packet of dried ones, but the Robin is not best interested in them, he much orders his suet pieces, once before I did soak them, as you say they did smell a bit!

    I think whatever you find your birds take, is what to keep feeing them with, they obuiously like what they get. Mine love the sunflower hearts, premium seed, Niger seed and fat cakes/balls. This last few weeks the peanuts (in hangers) have not been touched much.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Hi Catlady

    Thank you very much for your advice. I think I’m overthinking it with the nutrition stats and you are right I should carry on feeding them what they like! I think I’ll pour the water away inside from now on and hope I can’t smell it still and I’ll turn the soil over as you suggest to deter the mice!

    Thanks again for your help and advice :)
  • Robyn, you could always pour the water down an outside drain and if you get a back smell in the kitchen or toilet from the drain, put some bleach down the sink.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.