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From farm to feeder

My winter bird feeding regime

If you’ve read my blog on the Vine House Farm website before, then you’ll know that I live in the north of Scotland (about midway between Inverness and the north coast) in a lovely parish called Rogart. We, that’s me and my wife, have about eight acres of land which is a mix of meadow, woodland, moorland and river bank. So, as you can imagine, we get plenty of wildlife and a huge mix of bird species, with Dipper, Common Sandpiper, Wheatear, Meadow Pipit and Swallow being some of my favourites. But here I’m going to talk about the birds I feed in the winter, and why I keep things nice and simple.

The first thing I should say is that I don’t, in a major way, feed the birds on our land in the summer and autumn months. The only exception is sunflower hearts directly onto the ground for Chaffinches, and I only do this because they’ve become so tame that they literally mob me when I walk out the front door in the morning! Of course in more urban areas of the UK and where there’s relatively intensive farming, feeding the birds in your garden throughout the year is vitally important. But where I live the sheer number of invertebrates – e.g. flying insects and caterpillars – is huge and there’s certainly no shortage of natural food from late spring to early autumn.

But come November I set up a serious feeding station, and the resulting number of birds never fails to amaze me. As with the summer months the most numerous species is Chaffinch, and the number is typically 120 plus – and no doubt buoyed by an influx of birds from northern mainland Europe. After that it’s probably Coal tit, and although hard to estimate numbers because of their individual commando-style raids to snatch a sunflower heart from a feeder and hide it in a tree crevice (Coal tits, unusually for a small song bird, only eat some of the food they take immediately and hide the rest for a later date), I imagine there must be more than 50. Then there’s Siskins and Redpolls, though some years I get near plague proportions and others, like this year, very few. I also get up to 10 Blackbirds, and believe that the majority of these are migrants from mainland Europe.

So this is the basis of my feeding station:

Seed feeder and what I put in it

I mainly use the largest feeder available, with the Conqueror 1.2 metre 12 port feeder being just the job. And I use big feeders for the obvious reason of them needing less filling (in my case once a day rather than three time a day) but also because more feeder ports means less stressed birds trying to find their food. I only use sunflower hearts – or at least I do now given that the price has come down so much – because a) birds use less energy as they don’t have to de-husk them, b) there’s obviously no waste to clear up and also no risk of disease and infection building up in any waste, and c) birds which can’t remove the husk, and I’m thinking Robins and Dunnocks here, also get a feed. And because that huge feeder has round perches, both species of the aforementioned can get on them and at the food.

Niger seed feeder
For Goldfinches, Siskins and Redpolls, I use the 20 port Droll Yankee Niger Feeder – and doesn’t that look good with up to 20 birds feeding on it at the same time!

Mesh peanut feeder
I still like to use one of these and only with peanuts, and even though many folk now prefer suet pellets instead. Long-tailed tits and Great spotted woodpeckers seem to agree with me.

Suet blocks in cage feeder
But although I don’t often feed suet pellets, I’m a big fan of suet blocks and house them in caged feeder to prevent Jackdaws and Rooks from getting at them. (I’ve nothing against either bird but a suet block would last less than fifteen minutes if they had easy access to it.)

Ground feeder with sunflower hearts
And finally, I use a ground feeding tray with sunflower hearts to ensure Blackbirds, Robins, Dunnocks and Song Thrushes don’t get missed out.

So it’s a big operation but also a simple one, which is just the way I like it.