Bird Feeding in London

Best practices for feeding birds

Feeding birds is a great way to engage with birdlife in your neighbourhood, but feeding improperly can also introduce certain risks to both humans and birds. Here are some basic tips for ways to keep birds at your feeders safe and healthy.

IMPORTANT NOTICE In 2022, an outbreak of Avian Influenza is spreading rapidly among wild birds and poultry. For current guidance on feeding birds, please see here. It may be appropriate to pause bird feeding, especially if you have poultry near your property. Please ensure that all bird feeders are washed thoroughly using the methods described below.

Where to buy bird-feeding supplies in London

Bird feed and other supplies can be sourced locally at:

 

Feeder hygiene

  • Birds visiting your feeders are essentially all using the same dishes for their meals! It is very important to keep feeders clean (i.e., free from bird faeces, fungal or bacterial growth) to ensure birds do not become sick or transmit pathogens.

  • Bird seed should not be allowed to sit in feeders for long stretches of time. Aim to clean out your feeders around once every two weeks, or more often during times of heavy use or during wet weather.

  • Look out for signs of infection at your feeders (see example below). If you spot a bird with crusty eyes or beaks, or a bird perched or on the ground and not moving, there may be contagious illness present such as Salmonella. If you spot signs of infection, please remove your feeders for a few days and sanitize them using the method described below. Outbreaks of bird diseases at feeders may be reported here.

  • How to sanitize your bird feeders: you may use a dishwasher or wash them by hand with vinegar or a bleach dilution (no more than 1 part bleach to 9 parts water). Disassemble the feeders and soak the parts that contain feed and come in contact with birds before scrubbing with a brush or sponge. Rinse feeders thoroughly and all them to dry completely before restocking. Learn more about feeder hygiene.

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A house finch with swollen, crusty eyes that developed conjunctivitis and was admitted to Salthaven. If you see a bird in this condition at your feeder, capture it and call a wildlife rehab (more info). Photo courtesy of Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Centre.

How to feed

  • If windows near the bird feeders are untreated, bird feeders should be placed within 1.5 feet / half a meter of the windows to reduce the risk of birds colliding with windows and injuring themselves. Alternatively, consider treating your windows.

  • If you wish to deter squirrels from your bird feeders, please do not apply grease on feeder poles. Grease may become attached to birds’ feathers and mammals’ fur and cause harm. Try using a pole baffle or squirrel-proof feeder instead, and place feeders away from other tall objects or surfaces that squirrels could use for leverage.

 

When to feed

  • Birds generally do not need supplementary food during the warmer months. Feeding is most beneficial during the winter when natural food sources are in short supply.

  • If you start feeding birds in winter, you should continue to provide food until the end of the season. This is because overwintering birds may become dependent on your feeder as a primary food source. Leaving your feeder empty in the middle of winter could cause the birds depending on you to starve!

  • Consider replacing bird feeders during the summer months with plantings of native species including trees, shrubs, vines and wildflowers that produce fruits and seeds that will attract birds and insects that birds eat.

What to feed

  • Choosing a high-quality seed mix is important. Some seed mixes contain “filler” that some species of birds will not consume, leading to waste and mess.

  • See below for recommendations of seed mixes for attracting specific bird species.

  • For attracting hummingbirds, please do not use store-bought nectar containing dye. Hummingbird nectar can be prepared at home easily using granulated sugar and boiled water (see here for recipe). Change sugar water at least every 3 to 5 days to prevent mold and deadly fermentation, or more frequently during hot weather.

  • For attracting orioles, many people use oranges and other citrus. Grape jelly may also be used, although this is not a natural part of the birds’ diets and should be fed in moderation. Discard fresh offerings within 2 days to prevent accumulation of mould and bacteria.

Who to feed: London’s feeder bird species

A variety of birds may visit your feeders in London at different times of the year. Below is a list of common species. Note that London is also home to many birds that do not eat seeds and will be unlikely to visit your feeders. For attracting birds that are insectivorous like warblers, consider planting native species in your yard to increase local insect abundance. More information about the preferred diets and feeder types for each species is available from Project Feederwatch.

Common birds that visit feeders in London include:

Northern cardinal

Blue jay

Black-capped chickadee

Mourning dove

American goldfinch

American robin

Pine siskin

Rose finch 

House finch 

Purple finch 

Rose-breasted grosbeak 

Common grackle 

Ruby-throated hummingbird 

Baltimore orioles

Downy woodpecker 

Yellow-bellied sapsucker 

Hairy woodpecker 

Red-bellied woodpecker 

Pileated woodpecker

Tufted titmouse 

Dark-eyed junco

Chipping sparrow

Red-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Eastern towhee

House sparrow

European starling