Feeding Wild Birds

Posted on 24/06/2015

Putting out food for garden birds helps them get through the winter.  It’s good for the birds, and it can be interesting to watch them feed at the table.  Bird table activity can be especially entertaining for elderly people and anyone confined indoors.

Some birds fly north to warmer places for the winter, but many species stay and the winter can be a cold and hungry time.  The berries have fallen from the trees and there are fewer insects, so it can be very difficult for them to find enough food. 

 What can you feed them? 

  • Bread attracts sparrows and starlings - moisten the bread if it's stale or very dry and feed in small quantities only as it doesn’t contain many of the nutrients birds need.
  • Seeds attract sparrows and finches – peanuts, wheat, barley, millet. Do not feed salted nuts.
  • Fruit attracts many species including natives like silvereye, bellbird and tui, but also blackbirds and starlings. Try apple, pear, soaked raisins, sultanas.
  • Fat attracts silvereye and starlings. Dripping, lard and fat from cooked meat provide an excellent source of energy for small birds in particular.
  • Sugar water attracts native species particularly tuis and bellbirds. Use one part white or brown sugar to four or five parts water.
  • Soaked cat or dog biscuits (but don’t feed them dry, they can cause choking).

 Some no-nos:

Don’t feed milk (this can give birds diarrhoea), cooked porridge (can gum up their beaks), mouldy food (can be toxic) or salt (can be toxic).

Keep your bird-table clean, because left-over food can become mouldy.


  • Birds often defend their food, so spread out or scatter the food so that more than one bird can feed at once. 
  • It is really important that once you start feeding you continue at the same time each day throughout the winter, because the birds will come to rely on your supply. 
  • Birds need water as well, so leave some out for them in a shallow dish to drink or to splash about in.


Cats get a lot of bad press because they can kill birds, but the negative publicity is seldom deserved because rats and possums have a much higher chance of catching most birds that the domestic moggy! If you are worried about your cats’ hunting habits, make sure your bird table is well out of their reach.