Updated 17 July 2014

What to feed birds around your house

Feeding garden birds is more than just a pleasant past-time: it can contribute to their welfare and conservation too.

Many wild birds in 21st century urban and semi-urban areas suffer stress from loss of habitat and food sources. Safe gardens and suitable complementary feeding can help offset these stressors.

In addition, avian visitors are a beautiful living asset to your garden and provide their human benefactors hours of viewing pleasure (and no doubt some urban stress-relief too).

What to feed birds

Foods commonly offered include seeds, nuts, fruit, mealworms or other grubs, and fat. None of these alone is sufficient; the aim is to supplement the birds’ natural diet rather than create a complete alternative.

Make sure the food comes from reputable sources and that it's fresh. Don’t offer the birds too much at once: there should be rapid turnover.

Another way to attract birds is to plant fruit trees and other plants that local species feed from naturally.

Prevent disease

Hygiene is important in order to lower the risk of disease among your feathered visitors. Common bird diseases can be spread by contamination of food with the droppings or saliva of infected birds. The risk rises when many birds feed at the same times and locations. A much lesser risk, but an important one, is that birds can spread disease to humans and pets.

The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) has the following tips:
  • Create several feeding sites
  • Rotate between sites so not all are in use all the time.
  • Position feeders so they don't get contaminated by droppings i.e. not under places where birds might perch. Perching on the sides of the feeder is preferable.
  • Clean feeders and feeding sites regularly.
  • Equipment used for cleaning bird feeders should be used exclusively for that purpose and kept outside.
  • Wear gloves when cleaning and wash these and your hands thoroughly afterwards.
Remember a feeding site (or a birdbath for that matter) should also be out of the reach of neighbourhood cats.

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor

Feeding garden birds: best practice guidelines, The Garden Bird Health Initiative, UFAW.

Got a good green tip to share? Email me at or post on the EnviroHealth Forumif it's a planet-saver, we'll publish it.


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