Wildlife gardening: Change your nuts to attract birds

Posted on: 03 June 2010 by Mark O'haire

Fat balls and nuts could be the answer to bring birds into your garden.

bird feederIf you're putting out food in your garden but the birds are not interested, maybe it's time to change your nuts.

You can ditch the expensive wild bird food and fancy seed mixes. We found that all you need is a fat ball or plain old peanuts to bring birds, including the Great Spotted Woodpecker, flocking to the feeding station.

Most of us realise by now that bread is not very nutritious for birds, but you don't have to buy pricey specialist food unless you want to. There's no need to leave out boring scraps either, as there's a whole host of treats that birds love. Here are some suggestions.

Seasonal Specials

Birds need feeding most between October and April. Winter is the time to put out fats.

Be careful of bird table and fat ball contents in spring when chicks are about because they cannot stomach certain foods. You should not leave out fats, bread, whole nuts or chunks. Avoid these and hard, dry foods during summer too.

Fat Balls

Also known as bird cake or food bars, fat balls are ideal for winter feeding. During summer they may turn rancid, so watch out for this.

Fat balls are widely available in pet shops, garden centres, grocery stores and the like. Do remove the net because birds can get caught in it. Fat balls can sit on the bird table but if squirrels are a problem you may wish to purchase a hanging holder. You can also put fat into the bark of trees.

Alternatively you can make your own bird cake. Here's a recipe you can adapt:

  • Melt a solid fat such as suet or lard. This is easiest in a saucepan, although you can use the microwave if you do so in short bursts.
  • Stir in goodies such as bird seed. See below for more ideas.
  • Pour into a margarine tub, yoghurt pot or similar, or half a coconut shell, and refrigerate. By making a hole in the tub just wide enough and threading through a piece of string before you pour in the mix, you can hang it straight outside once it's set and turned out.


Peanuts are fine, but should be unsalted. Also beware of old nuts and those from unscrupulous suppliers as they may contain fatal aflatoxins. Use a mesh feeder to stop birds taking pieces that are too big.

Peanut butter and flour can be used in a homemade fat ball.


Black sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts and nyjer seeds are a treat for tits, finches, siskins, sparrows, buntings and so on. Also try sunflower-rich and high calorie seed mixes.

If you are buying a mix, avoid those containing split peas, beans, dried rice, lentils or dog biscuits.


Uncooked porridge oats are brilliant for birds. Any breakfast cereal is also fine.

Mixes containing flaked maize, pinhead oatmeal or millet are ideal.

Wheat and barley are unsuitable for small species.

Keep It Clean

Birds won't appreciate stale or mouldy food. Keep the feeding area clean and free of droppings and old food hanging around.


Windfall apples and pears, squashy strawberries, bananas and grapes or other fruit that is overripe or has fallen off the tree may not appeal to the human palate but is ideal for birds.

Different kinds of thrushes love fruit. You can also leave out dried fruit, such as currants, raisins and sultanas. It's best to soak it first.

Fresh coconut is suitable but dessicated is not because it can swell too much inside a bird.


Jacket potatoes, unsalted cooked rice and frozen vegetables can all be given to birds.


Birds will love cake - especially fruit - and biscuit crumbs, pastry, cooked bacon or grated cheese.


Mealworms, waxworms and other insects are available at specialist suppliers. Very wet or hot summers can diminish the supply of insects so birds will welcome a top-up in such times.


If you want to become a regular feeder of our feathered friends, also ensure a supply of fresh water every day. If it is very cold use tepid water but do not use any antifreeze products.

Web Links

www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdidentifier - If you are unsure what species your garden visitors are, you can check with the RSPB's easy to use Bird Identifier. The website also contains further information on feeding birds.

Do You Attract Birds?

Have you discovered a tasty treat that brings birds flocking to your feeding table? Do you know a delicious fat ball recipe?

You can share bird watching tips by leaving a comment below or visiting the 50connect forum.

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