Feeding the birds

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Feeding the birds

Postby JohnW » 14 Mar 2017, 1:21pm

Ever since 10 acres of virgin farming land behind our house was raped by developers we have had hardly any finches visiting our backyard. We put lots of food out, and we get plenty sparrows, tits, a dunnock, a robin, Jackdaws, starlings, collared doves, a wood pigeon sometimes, the occasional rook and magpies - but no finches. We've studied and learned quite a lot but still can't attract finches.

One source says that niger seeds are attractive to finches and I bought niger seeds months ago. I bought a special feeder, and I scatter the niger seeds along with millet, peanuts, suet pellets, cockatiel mixture, black and white sunflower seeds etc - everything goes as quickly as if the birds were bringing vacuum cleaners with them - but none of them take niger seeds. Occasionally a greenfinch will drop in, look around and fly off having inspected all that's available.

There must be someone on the Forum who knows about these things - I have two questions :
1). What use are niger seeds?
2). How do I attract finches?

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Re: Feeding the birds

Postby thirdcrank » 14 Mar 2017, 1:40pm

Greenfinches have been in short supply recently and I believe they are susceptible to disease.

Goldfinches seem to be a different carry on. They seem to be all over or none at all. Some years ago, we started getting them regularly. They do say that some have stopped migrating and have started overwintering in the UK. After they had started visiting our feeders, I bought some niger seed and found the collared doves were wolfing it down. I tried a cage round the feeder to keep them out but the goldfinches rarely went in so the seed went mouldy. Although they are small birds, goldfinches seem to have difficulty with cages on feeders. I had one stuck inside until I released it, even though other small birds were hopping in and out. So I abandoned niger seed as useless for us perhaps ten years ago.

Chaffinches seem to come and go but never in any sort of numbers. I don't remember having more than one pair around our garden.

We've been putting food out here for about 35 years. I stick to peanuts and sunflower hearts. Sunflowers with the husk still on are cheaper but leave a lot of mess. I think it's a matter of luck what you attract.

When I next replenish our feeders, I'll leave a tripadvisor type review, recommending your garden :wink:

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Re: Feeding the birds

Postby 661-Pete » 14 Mar 2017, 1:43pm

I don't know the answer to that, we put out mostly sunflower seeds and 'suet sprinkles' (from RSPB) and we get plenty of finches. It may have more to do with the landscape surrounding your garden, and what your neighbours put out (if anything). Birds' feeding territories are no respecters of garden boundaries!

But until the past year or so, finches in our garden were, as with you, rather uncommon. There are gradual changes and trends. A few years ago we were lamenting the almost complete disappearance of the house sparrow, not only from our garden but from the entire district. In fact my wife was so concerned, she e-mailed the RSPB about it. But they came back. And, years ago, the collared dove was one of our commonest (if not the most welcome!) visitors - but now they have all but vanished. Starlings too have had their ups and downs - plentiful at the moment.

The other day there were three different kinds of finch at our feeder simultaneously - goldfinch, greenfinch and chaffinch. You will be surprised to learn that the most unexpected of these was, for us, the chaffinch. Despite it being one of Britain's commonest nesting birds, they seem reluctant to visit our garden, although they're abundant in surrounding hedgerows.
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Re: Feeding the birds

Postby landsurfer » 14 Mar 2017, 1:45pm

You all seem to be going the right way about attracting rats, in my experience. :)
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Re: Feeding the birds

Postby kwackers » 14 Mar 2017, 2:16pm

I haven't found anything that likes niger seeds.

Sunflower hearts and bloodworm seem to be the food of choice for most things - although the squirrels are fairly partial to sunflower hearts too and have so far defeated all my attempts to keep them off...

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Re: Feeding the birds

Postby cycleruk » 14 Mar 2017, 2:19pm

We have lived in our current house 30 years and in all that time we had green finches a couple of times about two years ago.
The fields at the rear have been built on now byt it was only since they have built that Green Finches appeared. :?
Goldfinches appeared just a few years back and even nested in a front garden. Up till then none had been sighted but never seen them on the feeders. :?
House sparrows are common nester's in the eves and maybe a couple of broods a year.
Blackbirds have nested in the front garden but never seen or heard a song thrush. Collared Dove and Wood Pigeon are visitors now and again.
Robin, Blue & Great Tits frequent feeders. We had a spate for a couple of years of Long Tailed tits traversing the hedge rows along the back but none this year. We sometimes have Starlings attack the feeders but they don't nest nearby.
We have had Mallards in the garden as well. :)
I just put out fat balls, general seed mix and peanuts. I throw out a slice of crumbled bread now and again which the Blackbird and pigeons like.
Sometimes a few currents and that really attracts the Blackbirds.
Last edited by cycleruk on 14 Mar 2017, 4:02pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Feeding the birds

Postby Mistik-ka » 14 Mar 2017, 3:00pm

third crank wrote:Sunflowers with the husk still on are cheaper but leave a lot of mess.

We found the solution to the mess … or rather, it found us.
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Re: Feeding the birds

Postby al_yrpal » 14 Mar 2017, 3:22pm

My wife puts bird seeds out all the time. We have resident robins sparrows a wren. Collared doves, blackbirds wood pigeons sparrows big noisy gangs of starlings. Tits of all sorts. Greenfinches occasionally, goldfinches regularly, last two years the chaffinches haven't come in although there are lots in nearby woods. This time of year we get thrushes singing from tops of trees in the evening and sometimes in the garden. Red Kites swoop overhead continuously, up to ten at a time sometimes, people feed them. Occasionally we get a sparrowhawk disassembling something on the lawn, Magpies, Jackdaws Rooks and Crows, and very occasionally a woodpecker, tree creeper or heron at our tiny pond. We are about 300 metres from open field or forest in any direction. Not far away others see Bullfinches and other more exotic birds. Chaffinches usually appear Jan or Feb but not this year.

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Re: Feeding the birds

Postby fausto copy » 14 Mar 2017, 3:48pm

I've never used Niger seed as whatever we we put out goes quickly enough.
My son uses it in Hereford but I rarely see any birds on that feeder. I think he puts it out 'cos it lasts a long time.

I had a chaffinch singing away merrily yesterday whilst out doing some pruning (me, not him) and they're our commonest bird in the garden.
Up until this year they have always been ground-feeders but this year they've learnt how to take food from the seed feeder itself.

We have had quite a few goldfinches in the garden this year. They've now stripped all the old seed-heads off the perennials and are using the feeder also.

Just had a dunnock in the garden; he went missing last year but nice to see him back.
Sparrows plentiful again, usual robins, blackbirds, collared doves etc.
Not so many starlings this year and still awaiting the return of our visiting chief-chaffs and garden warblers.


Oh. how could I forget......numerous magpies.

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Re: Feeding the birds

Postby Norman H » 14 Mar 2017, 3:50pm

I think TC is spot on with his observation of goldfinches and caged feeders. Grenfinches also in my experience are reluctant to use them.

I'm on the borders of London and Hertfordshire and back on to woodland. The local squirrel population make short work of any feeder that isn't either caged or all metal construction. I feed mostly whole sunflower seeds, peanuts, and fat balls and I am blessed with a variety of birds. In addition to the usual suspects I get Nuthatch and a variety of finches - Chaffinch, Greenfinch and the occasional Goldfinches. Most years I'm also visited by Siskin late on in the winter but I've not seen any this year. I also get Greater Spotted Woodpeckers and my not so prized lawn, which sports a number of minor ant hills, is a favourite with the Green Woodpecker.

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Re: Feeding the birds

Postby 661-Pete » 14 Mar 2017, 3:55pm

I've seen the odd heron perched on the roof of a neighbouring house. Seems an odd sort of place for a heron to hang out, but you try explaining this to the heron! It is true that some people are surprised to learn that they nest in trees.

Talking of herons, the little egret, previously not known from Britain, is now well established in South-East England. There are breeding pairs on our nearby rivers the Ouse and the Cuckmere, and doubtless plenty of other places around here. Often seen from the train (strikes permitting) between London and Eastbourne. Once Mrs P saw one wading the little stream at the end of our road. A beautiful and very elegant bird!

We did once get a sparrowhawk pounce on a blackbird on our back lawn, but that was quite an exceptional event.
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Re: Feeding the birds

Postby fausto copy » 14 Mar 2017, 4:10pm

I imagine some of your neighbours have garden ponds, which would explain the presence of the heron.
I was working in my garden a few years back on a day similar to this (thick coastal mist) when a heron landed on the fence adjacent to my pond, literally five feet from me. I'm not sure who was the most frightened when we saw each other, me or him!

We've had little egrets on the coastal ponds a few years now but the last two weeks we've seen one in a field adjacent to the town by-pass, seemingly happy enough in the flooded grass.

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Re: Feeding the birds

Postby Psamathe » 14 Mar 2017, 4:11pm

I find niger seeds a waste of time.

Sunflower seed hearts are loved by most finches - to the point where I mostly gave-up feeding the birds a year or more ago. Their population grew so big (thanks to my feeding) they were getting through a full feeder every day (costing me about £30 a month!). I was skewing the population as badly (the other way) and so I mostly stopped and now only feed sunflower hearts in particularly cold spells. And now more sensible natural numbers (I did not suddenly remove the food but ran it down gradually as the cold weather ended).

I found that through the winter I got a mixed flock Goldfinches, chaffinches, green finches and a few others (blue tits, sparrows, etc). They'd all arrive together, feed (and squabble) then depart together. Green and goldfinches would use the feeders but chaffinches would pick-up the bits on the ground.

Blue tits seem to self limit their population as they are moderately territorial and have never got to problem/daft levels.

When you put out a feeder it can take the birds some time to discover it and for the number of visitors to grow.

Sunflower seeds seem universally loved. Stick to basic stuff rather than the more processed foods shops love to sell at higher prices. Sunflower seed hearts, peanuts, fatballs (though birds will love some brands and hate others - my parents found one make of them rejected by their birds so I took them and mine love them whilst my parents bow buy a different brand and their birds love those). I got given some fat pellets containing insects and the feeder has been left untouched all winter. Finches only eat the sunflower seed hearts (sometimes get a greater spotted woodpecker on them). Peanuts seem to be only for blutits at the moment and the robins seem to be eating the fatballs.

Years ago when I used to feed a mixed seed food the finches would sit on the feeder pulling bits out and dropping them until they found a sunflower seed heart!


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Re: Feeding the birds

Postby Vorpal » 14 Mar 2017, 4:43pm

Niger seeds are oily and they dry out quickly, so when they are stored more than a few days in a feeder, the birds mostly won't eat them anymore. Also, open bags need to be kept sealed & used fairly quickly, so if you want to feed niger seed, buy small bags, keep them sealed when you aren't getting seed out, and only put out a little at a time.

I've known people to keep niger seed in a refrigerator or freezer for preservation, though I don't know if it is beneficial.

Most finches like sunflower hearts and those keep better than niger seed.
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Re: Feeding the birds

Postby Heltor Chasca » 14 Mar 2017, 4:52pm

I found a seed that has attracted more species and is very popular. I just fill the bird feeders with an organic mixed corn sold for chickens. It is an inth of the price of so called bird feed and as I buy it in bulk for my chooks, the wild birds always have a supply. Finches included.