Feeding garden birds: trouble-shooting

Feeding the birds is an activity that brings hours of joy to thousands of people in Scotland for as little as the cost of some seeds - and it usually is problem free. However, it’s worth being aware of some of the issues that can crop up from time to time, just so you know how to tackle them.

Sick birds

In the wild, birds sometimes pick up infections which can be passed on in areas where large numbers are attracted at once, like feeders. Most diseases are transmitted by droppings; if contaminated droppings mix with food, the birds run a risk of picking up the infection. Think of it this way, if you had a cold, went to a restaurant and sneezed on everyone, you’d likely infect a lot of people.

The best thing everyone can do to help prevent this is to keep feeders clean. Wash them outdoors (ideally, using a 5% disinfectant solution) and remember to wear gloves. You could also try moving hanging feeders around every so often to prevent droppings accumulating underneath them. And if you have bird baths or bird tables those will need a regular scrubbing as well! Even with thorough cleaning though, you may still see one or two sick birds in your garden; they often appear fluffed up, lethargic and are reluctant to fly away.

If you’ve seen several sick birds at once, it’s often advisable to stop feeding for a while to let the birds disperse a bit, then clean your feeders really well, and tidy up the ground underneath before putting out food again. Don’t worry though - these things often pass pretty quickly.

Unwanted visitors

As you’ll know if you’re already doing it regularly, feeding the birds pretty much always results in some spilled food, which can be a tasty temptation for unwanted garden visitors like rodents. The odd mouse or vole isn’t a problem because they’re part of your garden’s ecology anyway, but rats are something you don’t want to ignore. Fear not though! Taking just a few simple steps could mean you’ll avoid that issue altogether.

Try to monitor the amount of food you’re putting out to make sure there isn’t a lot left sitting out on bird tables overnight, and use well made feeders or ground trays to avoid extra spillage. Feed in the morning if possible rather than at night (when rodents are active) and if you have seeds building up on the ground, scoop them up and get rid of them. Also, just keeping your food tidily stored will help. Think about investing in some sturdy metal boxes or popping seeds into old sweetie or biscuit tins!