Updated: Apr 28, 2019
We have over 40 different species of regular bird visitors in the garden ranging from the minuscule goldcrest who feeds on the tiny insects living on our pine trees through to the huge grey herons who stand motionless on the side of the pond trying to spear our frogs.
Every species of bird in the garden takes advantage of the supplementary food we put out for them throughout the year. We feed via bird tables, on the ground and via a multitude of hanging bird feeders dotted around the garden to cater to all types of bird, whatever their preferred style of feeding.
We buy bulk bags for economies of scale and store the food in a galvanised tin food bin behind the shed (which we now remember to lock at night after one memorable occasion when the badgers broke in and ate a couple of kilos of suet pellets and a dozen suet filled coconut halves in one sitting).
Sunflower hearts make up the base of the bird food mix we put together for ground and table feeding; as well as one of the main seeds we use in hanging feeders around the garden. Garden Wildlife Direct https://www.gardenwildlifedirect.co.uk/ are the cheapest supplier we have found and their premium sunflower seeds are excellent quality at £27.99 for 25kg. Sunflower hearts are very high in fat compared to other seeds and do not germinate so we find them to be a very good base for our seed mixes.
The best feeders for sunflower hearts, and other bird seeds, that we have found are these ones from Nature's Feast. Very sturdy, easy to take apart to clean and they've withstood over five years of enthusiastic feeding by hoards of squirrels, flocks of starlings and ring-neck parakeets amongst others.
Suet pellets form the second standard component of a three part mix for table and ground feeding. Again Garden Wildlife Direct come out as best value for money for good quality suet pellets from the suppliers we have looked at. £16.99 for a 12.75kg bag. We also fill a couple of these suet feeders to make sure some of the smaller birds who prefer feeding from hanging feeders get a look in.
Over the years we have periodically bought cheap, poor quality suet fat balls from a variety of sources which the birds have pointedly ignored. We now buy the premium ones from either Garden Wildlife Direct https://www.gardenwildlifedirect.co.uk/bird-suet-foods/bird-fat-balls/premium-wild-bird-fat-balls.html
The suet ball feeder shown below was a gift so we're not sure where it came from but it is really stylish and is great for ensuring only the small birds can get to the fat balls. It's definitely worth looking for an equivalent to ensure the smaller birds get a look-in, this feeder is frequently full with a family of long tailed tits pecking away. .
We also hang multiple coconut halves filled with suet around the garden, the woodpeckers love these and can go through most of one in a day! We get them from either B&M https://www.bmstores.co.uk/products/glennwood-suet-coconut-feeders-8pk-333255
During the winter months we put out these huge suet cakes in cages https://www.arkwildlife.co.uk/Item/Fat_-AMP-_Suet_Foods~Suet_Cakes/SUCA-MV/Ark_Suet_Cake_Mixed_Value_Pack.html
The final standard component of the bird food mix we put together for table and ground feeders is dried mealworms; the cheapest source we have found by a long way is our local B&M or Poundland who do 500g for £5 https://www.bmstores.co.uk/products/glennwood-dried-mealworms-bird-food-500g-342960. You can soak them overnight but we've found they go pretty quickly even without soaking.
Any bird that feeds on invertebrates such as worms, insects or caterpillars will go crazy for live mealworms, especially when they are feeding their young. We have had robins, great tits, blue tits, blackbirds and starlings feeding from our hands when we're offering live mealworms.
The cheapest provider for live mealworms we have found is https://www.livefoodsdirect.co.uk/category/mealworms. Their website doesn't look very up to date at the moment as it is still referencing the problems they had last year during the heatwave but we think these are the guys that supply all the other sources we have used over the years such as Ark Wildlife
https://www.arkwildlife.co.uk/Category/0/Live_Foods~Mealworms.html and CJ Wildlife https://www.birdfood.co.uk/live-mealworms.html who also provide great customer service.
The bigger birds such as magpies or starlings will take as many mealworms as they can fit in their beaks (we've seen starlings with 8-10 mealworms lined up in one beakfull) so you need to use feeders that keep these bigger birds out unless you want to bankrupt yourself. We bought our live mealworm feeder and cage from Amazon.
To keep the mealworms we keep an old fish tank and a plastic storage box with crumpled up newspaper in the shed, we use wheatbran from Holland and Barrett to feed the mealworms https://www.hollandandbarrett.com/shop/product/holland-barrett-natural-wheat-bran-60020283?skuid=020283 750g for £1.29, especially cost effective when they have their frequent buy-one-get-one half-price offers on. We sometimes throw in a handful of lettuces or very thinly sliced potato as additional food.
Peanuts & dried fruits
We provide peanuts in hanging feeders and kibbled peanuts mixed in with our standard table and ground feeding mix. Robins, blackbirds and thrush especially love the dried fruit when it has been pre-soaked. We use Ark Wildlife for their excellent quality peanuts and dried fruit.
Some people think we're crazy for providing food to actively encourage squirrels into the garden but quite simply we find their mischievous antics hugely entertaining; a benefit that far outweighs any collateral damage that might be incurred...
As you can probably imagine they are very happy to help themselves to any bird food they can get their paws on. In addition Ark Wildlife https://www.arkwildlife.co.uk/ provide a great range of nuts with the shell on to feed grey or red squirrels. They deliver the next day if you order before 3pm Monday to Friday and delivery is free on orders over £25. They have brilliant customer service and have always delivered on time.
The heatwave of summer 2018 meant we slept with the windows open and were woken up by a family of four badgers snuffling through the garden, eating all the bird food and knocking everything over. We'd seen signs before in the garden but never thought we would get badgers in suburban Didsbury so we'd blamed the poor foxes for all the digging!
We've now sat out many summer nights after midnight as the badgers potter around the patio right next to us, completely unfussed by human presence. They love the sunflower seeds, suet pellets, peanuts and mealworms that we provide for ground feeding birds and if we forget to lock the food tins they can eat their own body weight in suet! Do read my blog on how to create a dig-proof lawn to protect from badger digging.
We have at least two hedgehogs in the garden, one lives next to the house in the shelter of our water-wheel planting feature and the other lives way over on the far, wild side of the garden by the compost tip. They are very shy but we do periodically hear them munching away on slugs when we're sitting out late at night. We do put out hedgehog food for them which is always gone in the morning but we've never been lucky enough to see them eating - https://www.arkwildlife.co.uk/Item/2302/AHFO-01/Ark_Hedgehog_Food_Original_-_1kg_Pouch.html?gclid=EAIaIQobChMImun9p8jk4AIVorztCh1GuASeEAQYASABEgIsiPD_BwE
Foxes, it would appear, eat anything. From bird food, fallen suet blocks and food for the local stray cat to my shoes, wallet and anything I've prepared for lunch.
Help us help nature
We're not affiliated with any of the food suppliers listed above but if you're prepared to go through the extra step of contacting me to refer you to Garden Wildlife Direct you will receive £10 off your first order. In addition we'll use the £10 credit we get to donate to Greenmount Wild Bird Hospital http://www.gwbh.org.uk/ who have cared for a number of injured birds we have found in the garden over the years. Just drop me a message with the email address you plan to use to create an account and I'll do the referral as soon as I'm online https://www.gardenwildlifedirect.co.uk//recommend-a-friend