How to use a bird feeder correctly

How to use a bird feeder correctly

Feeding wild birds may seem easy at first glance. But in fact it requires more than just putting out bird seed. By using a garden feeder correctly, you’ll ensure locals birds visit regularly and get the nutrients they need while staying safe and healthy.

Hang it out of harm’s way

Hanging feeders are popular in New Zealand gardens because they’re easy to hang and refill. It’s important to remember however, to always hang a bird feeder out of harm’s way. Birds feel safe feeding high up off the ground as they are out of the reach of cats and other predators. Rats, stoats, ferrets and possums — those mortal enemies of New Zealand garden birds — may also enjoy feeding on seeds. Be sure to hang the feeder out on a limb rather than close to the trunk to discourage pests.

Keep it clean

Bird feeders should be cleaned regularly — ideally every couple of days. And yes, there is a correct technique for doing so. Clear away droppings and uneaten food (yes, birds have terrible table manners) and rinse the feeder. Dirty leftovers can clog up a feeder as well as transmit diseases to birds in the area. Cleaning a feeder regularly will also prevent wear and tear, giving it a longer lifespan.

Top up regularly

Although winter is when birds most need access to a feeder, some birds will visit all year round. Topping up the feeder regularly will help birds know where to find food when they really need it. It's not just winter that makes for slim pickings though: hot, dry summers can also make it hard for birds to access food so a regular supply will be appreciated by seed-eaters in particular. 

P.S. If you’re worried that birds will become dependent on a feeder, don’t. Studies have shown that “birds with ready access to supplementary food use only a small proportion of this food and survive even when the provision of this food was suddenly stopped.” Whew!

Use quality bird seed

Cheaper brands of bird seed tend to contain cereals, low quality fillers like corn and imported seed. Birds will cast aside the unappealing grains in search of the more nutritious ones, creating unnecessary waste and mess under the feeder. Many products contain imported seed which may come from less fertile soils. It can also be heat-treated which reduces the nutritional value. Feeding a top quality, New Zealand-grown seed mix less often is the way to go.

Don’t feed bread

Yes, our grandmothers all did it too. But we now know that bread contains very little nutritional value for birds. It’s junk food! Bread can be scattered as an occasional treat alongside other nutritious offerings but shouldn’t form the main substance of wild bird food.

Use more than one type of feeder

Every species has its own specific diet and food preferences. That’s why it’s important to cater for all types of New Zealand garden birds. An open feeder filled with seed will bring finches, pigeons, doves and other seed feeders. Tauhou (waxeye or silvereye) go crazy for vegetable-suet products like Energy Cakes and Truffles while a nectar feeder will keep tūi and bellbird happy. Putting out fruit or scattering a few mealworms near the feeder will keep most species happy too.

Remember that a clean, fresh supply of water is useful for birds in all seasons too: consider setting up an easy-clean bird bath nearby.

Bird feed Bird feeders Wild birds