What's the best way to feed garden birds?

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All three finches friend feeders

The unwelcome truth is that feeding stations can become hotspots for spreading disease. Here are top tips on what, and how, to feed birds, from Finches Friend

Science shows that birds have a beneficial effect on our wellbeing and health – how can we return the favour?

Birds boost our wellbeing – that’s not just a fluffy sentiment, there’s hard science to back it up. So in turn, the least we can do is look after our feathered friends in turn. 

You may believe that by feeding them, that’s exactly what you’re doing – but what if you’re inadvertently doing your flying visitors more harm than good?

Providing the right food is one thing – and most of us are now aware that there are more nutritious foods for them than dry bread – but did you know that the way you provide it is also vitally important? 

Unless you take steps to keep food and feeders hygienic, you could be unwittingly spreading diseases that can kill the very birds you’re aiming to nurture. We’ll come on to that – first, let’s cover the best bird food for spring and summer. 

Seasonal diet

Blue tit on feeder

It’s not just humans who benefit from varying our diet with the seasons, that approach applies, on a more simplistic level, to birds too. While they need high-fat foods over the winter to help build and maintain their fat reserves, lots of protein-rich foods are the order of the day in summer. 

Birds don’t all eat the same foods – different species have different diets, so work out which are regulars in your garden (and which you’d like to attract) and pick your food accordingly.

Ideal summer foods include:

  • Sunflower seeds (especially black ones)
  • Seed mixes without peanuts
  • Mild grated cheese
  • Special mixes for insectivorous birds
  • Mealworms and wax worms

During the breeding season it’s best not to put food out that young chicks could choke on, including large chunks of bread or other foods, and loose peanuts.

Goldfinch on branch

Good winter foods include the protein-rich foods above but also:

  • Fat balls and fat-based food bars – if you make your own, stick to pure fats such as lard and suet.
  • Peanuts (they’re high in oils)
  • Cooked rice (without salt added)

Uncooked porridge oats and soft fruits (over-ripe apples and pears cut in half, bananas and grapes) are good for a variety of birds all year round. 

Keep it fresh

Just as important as feeding birds the right foods is changing it regularly so that the food doesn’t go mouldy or rancid. Ideally, put out the food that’s likely to be eaten over the course of a day; and with feeders full of seed or nuts, make sure they’re being emptied every few days. 

Hygiene is key

Marsh tit on finches friend feeder

Unfortunately, bird feeders, bird tables and other feeding points can spread disease and ultimately lead to birds dying. Because these areas tend to attract a lot of birds, with different species mixing, it’s vital to clean bird feeders and tables regularly – this means weekly – to avoid the transmission of disease through contaminated surfaces or food. 

There are three diseases affecting our garden birds that are of serious concern. 


A parasitic disease, this is passed from bird to bird via saliva. Where you have birds feeding intensively, such as hanging feeders or bird tables, these are points of concern. Finches are most affected by it, although sparrows, dunnocks, great tits and siskins are also prone to infection. One study suggests that trichomonosis accounts for 62% of all greenfinch, chaffinch and dunnock deaths every year in the British Isles, and it’s probably the cause of a 50% reduction of the UK breeding population of greenfinches since the early 2000s. 

Avian flu 

You’ve no doubt heard of this already. It’s generally passed on by birds migrating into the UK, through direct contact or contaminated saliva and droppings so, again, feeding stations are a potential hotspot for spreading it. The disease mainly affects ducks, geese and swans, but the RSPB has urged everyone to maintain good hygiene when feeding garden birds, to regularly clean bird feeders and space them out to avoid the spread of the disease.


This is often transmitted through rotting food and droppings, which can contaminate food and water, and can cause salmonellosis in garden birds, especially in seed-eating birds such as greenfinches and house sparrows.

Here are some of the most common points at which these diseases can be spread:

Side port feeders

These are the most common hanging feeding stations and are where transmission by saliva can take place. As most of them allow water to get into the food, it can easily become wet or mouldy, making the feeders time-consuming to clean.

Wooden bird tables and window feeders

These are often an open tray, which means that birds may deposit droppings on them and then walk in their food. 

Mesh peanut feeders 

If these aren’t cleaned, the food soon becomes damp and sometimes mouldy and, as the birds’ claws touch the food, this can lead to faecal contamination.

Water baths

Often, their design allows bird droppings into the water, or birds claws to enter the water, contaminating it. 

Chaffinch on fence

How to clean your feeders

1. Put gloves on.
2. Remove or empty old food.
3. Take them apart before scrubbing them with hot soapy water and a brush
4. Rinse with cold water and let it dry
5. Treat with a non-toxic disinfectant or weak bleach solution
6. Rinse again ad let it dry

How to clean your bird table

1. Put gloves on.
2. Fill a bucket with warm soapy wate rand use a sponge to clean the top of the table, clearing away all food and droppings.
3. Rinse it with cold water and let it dry
4. Spray with non-toxic disinfectant or weak bleach solution. 
5. Rinse it again and let it dry.

It’s also good practice to clean the areas below feeders and tables, clearing away old food and droppings, and to provide clean drinking water every day.

What else can you do to keep birds healthy?

If possible, it helps to provide several feeding stations to reduce the number of birds in any one spot. It’s also a good idea to rotate the position of feeders to minimise droppings and food waste in areas underneath them.

How can Finches Friend help?

Great tit on finches friend feeder

As you can see, it’s vital to keep bird food fresh and to clean your feeders regularly. Finches Friend bird feeders have been painstakingly engineered and manufactured in the UK to minimise the risk of rotting food and of transmission through bird saliva or droppings. 

Designed by a family business with a burning desire to minimise the spread of trichomonosis among garden birds, these high-quality feeders are specifically engineered to keep food dry, can be easily cleaned and are made in Britain from recyclable materials. 

Because the food store is separate to the feeding area, this allows the feeding area to be removed without waste, while the food in the storage area remains clean and dry – and, vitally, free of the parasite. 

Goldfinch in tree

Because dismantling bird feeders to clean them properly can often be a faff, Finches Friend has made this as easy as possible so that they can be cleaned in minutes. This means you’re more likely to clean it regularly and, as a result, to help keep your garden birds healthy.   

The feeders come in three different sizes, with one, two or four feed chambers so they can hold different feeds – and last April saw the introduction of the best-value feeder yet, at £44.95. 

To find out more, or order your Finches Friend bird feeder, click here.

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