Feed and bird watch at the same time this winter!

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Silver eye birds

Winter is well and truly on it’s way in many areas of NZ, with last nights temperatures dropping to 2 degrees even in the capital city.

Whilst we’re all wrapped up warm with our fires roaring, hot chocolate in hand and hotties on our feet it’s at this time of year that we need to spare a thought for New Zealand’s small birds who struggle to find food and keep warm when the days draw in and temperatures plummet. In fact, it’s thought that up to 50% of small New Zealand birds don’t survive the winter in some of the coldest areas of the country.

But you can help give these birds a fighting chance right from you own home! Help these little birds keep warm this winter by providing them with a hearty meal each day and you’ll significantly increase their chances of seeing spring.

And don’t forget, your good deed benefits you too! If you’re a keen bird watcher like us, you can also benefit from your good deed watching some of your favourite birds from the comfort of your own home! In these chilly temperatures you may be loathed to leave your house in search of bird watching opportunities, but this way you can stay warm and get your birding fix at the same time.

Leave a pair of binoculars or a handy monocular on your window sill so they’re on hand at a moments notice when your bird feeding table is bustling with hungry native and introduced birds. They might not be some of the more exotic Kiwi birds you’ll ever see, but watching chaffinches, silver eyes, starlings, greenfinches, dunnocks, tui and even the common house sparrow indulging in their favourite foods is sure to bring a smile to your face!

We’d recommend a pair with a reasonably high magnification of 10x or more, and some with lenses that are 42mm or 50mm in diameter e.g. binoculars with specifications of 10x42 or 10x50. Binoculars with these specs will help you see your feathered visitors in more detail, and will allow in more light for a brighter and sharper image for easier bird identification.

The image shake usually associated with binoculars of this size can be minimised with support from your window sill or door frame, as can the weight of them.

We’d also recommend binoculars with good close focus to allow for looking at our feathered friends on your bird table. Below are just a few suggestions from our entire binocular range to help you choose the best binoculars for bird watching in your garden.


What to feed birds during winter

The best foods to feed birds in winter are high calorie, high fat and packed with energy. After all, many garden birds that you see are small in size, so it’s important that they fill themselves with the most nutritious foods possible.

With this in mind, the best foods to feed your garden birds include seed, fruit, fat, sugar-water and small amounts of bread.

Different foods will attract different birds:

Seed

  • Attracts introduced species such as house sparrow, greenfinch, chaffinch, goldfinch, and dunnock.
  • Large seeds (e.g. unsalted peanuts, sunflower seeds, wheat, and barley) attract the larger introduced species such as house sparrow, greenfinch, and chaffinch.
  • Small seeds (e.g. millet and nyjer seeds) attract the smaller introduced species such as goldfinch and dunnock.
  • You can buy wild bird seed/mix from many locations including supermarkets, and pet shops or online. Providing a mixture of seeds all in one will ensure that you are providing seed to cater for all types of birds.
  • Remember - don’t feed birds salted nuts as the sodium levels are too high for them and can be very harmful.
  • Bird feed is best placed on a bird table or in a bird feeder away from cats and other predatory mammals.

 

Fruit

  • Fruit attracts native species such as silvereye, bellbird, and tui (and also kaka and hihi where they are present) and also introduced species such as blackbird and starling.
  • Fruit can be fresh or dried and include chopped up apples, pears and oranges, along with raisins and sultanas. To make dried fruit easier for the birds to eat, soak it overnight and then place it in an open container on a bird table.

 

Fat

  • Fat attracts silvereye and starling.
  • Fat is an excellent source of energy for small birds in winter, when their body reserves are used up quickly.
  • Only use fats that are high in saturated fat such as suet (raw beef or mutton fat from around the heart and kidneys), lard (raw or rendered pig fat), or vegetable fat (shortening).
  • Peanut butter is also suitable for birds provided it is unsalted.
  • Remember - fat left over from cooking can be harmful to birds as it may contain too much salt, harbour bacteria and get smeared onto the birds feathers and damage them.
  • You can buy fat balls from butchers and supermarkets or you can make your own.

 

Sugar-Water

  • Sugar-water attracts native species such as silvereye, bellbird, and tui (and also kaka and hihi where they are present).
  • Dissolve 1 part sugar to 4 or 5 part water and leave in a container on your bird feeding table.
  • Remember - don’t use honey instead of sugar. Honey attracts bees too and has been linked to the spread of bee disease.

 

Bread

  • Bread is the food most frequently offer to birds in NZ and attracts introduced species such as house sparrow, starling, and myna and also the native silver eye.
  • Bread is on ok food to feed birds but it should not be the only food that you provide them with as it lacks nutritional value and doesn’t provide birds with the proteins and fats that they need.

 

Don’t feed birds:

  • Too much bread
  • Salted nuts
  • Cooked porridge (dry porridge oats are fine and so is cooked rice)
  • Milk
  • Desiccated coconut
  • Mouldy food
  • Honey

 

Bird feeders

You can scatter some of the foods on the ground, e.g. bread and fruit, but some foods are best served up from a designated bird feeder.

Bird feeders come in all different forms with different feeders being suitable for different foods. We love the variety of bird feeders offered by New Zealand Backyard Birds who are a family owned business based in Whangarei. All of their products are hand made here in New Zealand and their range of bird feeding options is huge! Below are just a few examples of the types of bird feeders that you can get your hands on from them.


Happy winter bird watching! Don’t forget to use the New Zealand Birds Online encyclopaedia if you’re new to bird watching and you’re having trouble with bird identification.

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  • James Markham
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