What Do Garden Birds Like to Eat?
The Ultimate Guide to Feeding Wild Birds
- What Do Garden Birds Like to Eat?
- How to Attract Birds to Your Feeder
- The Ultimate Wild Bird Profile Guide
Peanuts - These are rich in fat and are popular with tits, greenfinches, house sparrows, nuthatches, great spotted woodpeckers and siskins. Peanut granules will attract Robins, Dunnocks and Wrens. Our Peanuts are free from aflatoxin.
Sunflower Seeds - These are an excellent year-round bird food, in many areas more popular than peanuts. The oil content is higher in black than striped ones, Sunflower Hearts are a popular no-mess food.
Wild Bird Mixes - Choose a mix to suit the type of birds you wish to feed. Brinvale Standard Wild Bird is great value, however it contains wheat which will also attract pheasants, doves and pigeons. Brinvale Supreme Wild Bird or Finch Mix contains small seeds such as millet, this will attract house sparrows, dunnocks, finches, reed buntings, pinhead oatmeal is excellent for many birds. Brinvale Nice n Clean Mix is a high energy no mess mix, this is suitable for all garden birds.
Special Mixes - Such as Robin Insect Mix, a combination of a Robin's favourite food, ie. peanut grains and mealworms. Brinvale Blackbird/Thrush Mix contains Fruit (raisins and apple) plus appled suet pellets.
Nyjer Seed - These are small and black with a high oil content, a favourite food of goldfinches and siskins. This seed can be purchased separately on our site, our Supreme Wild Bird Mix also contains some Nyjer seed.
Suet Products - Fat Balls, Suet Feasts, Suet Pellets are all excellent winter foods and popular with most species.
Mealworms - are relished by Robins and Blue Tits, may also attract other insect eating birds such as Pied Wagtails.
Find a suitable place for your feeding station or table. Ensure clear flight paths for the birds. Try to place the bird food somewhere where it won't be eaten by cats, rats, mice, squirrels, and other garden animals.
Should I provide water for birds also?
Keep your table clean, ensure feeders have good drainage, damp seed will go mouldy. Store your wild bird food somewhere cool and dry, and out of reach for mice and rats. Not only could the birds get ill eating from dirty feeders but they are likely to turn those nose up at mouldly looking food.
How often should I feed wild birds?
Birds will soon get used to visiting your feeders, wasting a lot of energy if they are empty, so all year round feeding is now approved.
We hope the above will help you decide which wild bird food to purchase. Brinvale also sells a wide variety of seeds to enable you to create your own wild bird food if your prefer.
Wild bird Profile: Goldfinch
The goldfinch is often one of the most desirable birds for people to have as a garden visitor. This is probably due to their striking appearance.
Both male and female goldfinches are barely bigger than a robin, have a bright yellow band on their wings and a black tail speckled with white. The bright red face topped with black and separated by white is also synonymous with both sexes of goldfinch. The only time that a goldfinch will not display all of these features is when it is at a young age. Juvenile goldfinches do not possess the bright red facial markings that the adults do. They do however still present the same wing and tail features.
Nyjer seed is often considered to be a goldfinch's favourite food but in our experience of feeding wild birds on the farm we don't believe this is the case. Whilst njyer seed is perfectly fine for attracting goldfinches to your garden,
we would strongly suggest that their favourite food is sunflower hearts by quite a distance.
Wild Bird Profile: Greenfinch
Greenfinches are a colourful addition to any garden and have become a more common garden visitor in recent years.They are relatively stout in appearance and can be quite boisterous when feeding.
Male greenfinches have bright yellow wing flashes and yellow edging on their tails. Their plumage is mainly of an olive colour with patches of greenish-yellow on their breast, rump and above their eyes. Female greenfinches are duller in appearance with less yellow on their bodies. Juvenile greenfinches tend to have a paler appearance than either of the adults, though they do present some similarities with streaks of colour in their plumage.
Greenfinches are also drawn to nyjer seed although in our experience they tend to prefer sunflower hearts if both seeds are on offer.
Wild Bird Profile: Chaffinch
One of the most successful species of finch, chaffinches can be seen in a large variety of habitats.
Chaffinches are almost unmistakable in appearance with the males presenting an array of vibrant colours. They have a silver-blue crown that begins at the beak and stretches down just below the head at the back. They have an orange-red face and chest that begins to fade to white as it approaches the legs. Their backs are chestnut brown and they have white wing bars that are easier to see when in flight. Female and juvenile chaffinches have a white chest and overall plumage colour of brownish grey-green leaving them with a less striking appearance than the male chaffinches.
Chaffinches prefer to feed from the ground, their varied diet means that they don't necessarily have a favourite food, chaffinches will eat peanuts for birds, sunflower hearts, fruits, berries and insects.
Wild bird Profile: Bullfinch
Bullfinches are most likely to appear in gardens that are close to woodland or scrub. When feeding in gardens they can often be seen doing so as a family.
Bullfinches are quite large when compared to other finches; they are also rounder in shape. Male and female bullfinches both sport a black cap that extends forwards, black wings, a black tail and a white bottom. The male has a bright pink-red breast and body whereas the female breast and body are a pinkish grey. Juvenile bullfinches are mostly brown; they do not possess the black cap of adult bullfinches but do show similar markings on the wings and tail.
Bullfinches tend to eat fruit from bushes and other natural sources, they have also been known to eat sunflower seeds and seed mixes.
Wild Bird Profile: Great Tit
The largest species of tit to be found in Britain, the great tit lives mostly near woodland, although it has adapted and spread.
The great tit has very distinct markings with a black cap, collar and bib; it has white cheeks and a green back that transitions into a blue-grey as it extends towards the tail and wings. The great tit has a bright yellow breast with a black stripe running down its centre. Female great tits tend to have a shorter and less broad central stripe when compared to the male.
The diet of a great tit primarily consists of insects throughout the summer, through winter and autumn however they eat large amounts of seed. If you want to see great tits all year round you will need to provide insects (preferably live) and seed mixes in your garden at the appropriate time of year.
Wild Bird Profile: Blue Tit
The blue tit is one of the three most commonly reported garden birds every year. It used to be found mainly around woodland but has extended its habitats to parklands and gardens.
One of the most noticeable features of the blue tit is the dark blue (almost black) eye stripe set against its white face. This feature is accompanied by a bright blue cap that becomes darker as it extends down the back changing to a blue-green which then becomes brighter on the wings. Even though the blue tit has similar markings to that of a great tit (bright yellow breast) it is a considerably smaller and livelier bird.
Young blue tits tend to have duller plumage than the adults and have pale yellow cheeks rather than an entirely white face.
Blue tits need invertebrate live food for feeding their chicks. If you provide them with live foods such as mealworms they are much more likely to make use of a nest box that has been placed in your garden. Blue tits also rely heavily on food provided throughout the winter. One of the main foods they will appreciate if it is provided for them is peanuts.
Wild Bird Profile: Coal Tit
Coal tits are one of the smaller birds in the tit family. They are not a particularly common sight and are more likely to appear in gardens located close to coniferous woodland.
Coal tits are slightly smaller than a blue tit, with a black cap and bib that extend outwards at the sides. Just below the crown of a coal tit's head there is a small rectangular white patch that runs down the middle of its neck. As with most birds in the tit family, the coal tit has white cheeks. Its body is a mixture of white, grey and olive plumage all lending themselves to an overall colour of cream-brown.
Coal tits have a main diet of insects but will also eat suet products and a selection of seeds.
Wild Bird Profile: Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed tits are very small birds, as their name suggests they can easily be identified by their long tails.
They have a prominent white line that runs from the beak and extends backwards down the neck. The wings are dark with a patch of pink towards the top; the tail presents very similar features with the pink showing mainly on its underside. The main body of a long-tailed tit is dirty white in colour with hints of pink that grow stronger as it progresses towards the back end. Juvenile long-tailed tits undergo a full moult a few weeks after fledging. This makes it hard to differentiate between adults and their young.
Long-tailed tits tend to eat food that provides them with a lot of energy. They can most commonly be seen feeding on peanuts and fat balls.
Wild Bird Profile: Blackbird
One of the most familiar garden bird visitors in Britain, blackbirds shouldn't be too hard to identify.
Adult malesare black with bright yellow-orange beaks and a ring of the same colour around their eyes. These colourful features are only on show in the blackbird's breeding season though and tend to look much duller for the rest of the year.
The female blackbird is brown in colour and often has a pal patch on its neck, juvenile blackbirds are also brown albeit in a warmer tone and with spotted plumage.
The blackbird is a softbill; this means that does not have a beak capable of cracking seeds with hard husks open. Because of this the blackbird is much more interested in eating different kinds of fruit, softer seeds, grains, worms and other insects.
Wild Bird Profile: House Sparrow
The house sparrow is a small solid little bird; it has a strong bill for opening and eating seeds and prefers to nest in the cavities of houses and other buildings.
Adult males have several distinctive traits that separate them from the females. Males have a grey crown and neck with the sides of their head being a warm brown. A black bib extends downwards and widens as it reaches further down the chest. The back is a warm shade of brown similar to that found on the sides of the head, broken by intermittent streaks of black as well as the odd white wing feather.
Adult females and all juvenile house sparrows have very similar markings. They are all of a sandy brown colour and tend to have darker brown and grey flashes running down their backs and wings.
House sparrows rely mainly on seeds as a source of food, though they do eat fruit and will appreciate any fat and suet left out for them in the cold winter months and during breeding season.
Wild Bird Profile: Tree Sparrow
Tree sparrows are the lesser seen cousin of the house sparrow. They are not particularly common but are a sight to behold when visiting your garden.
The main way to separate tree sparrows from their more commonly seen cousin is by checking their cheeks. Male and female tree sparrows look much the same and both have a tell-tale black cheek patch that cannot be found on a house sparrow, they also have a chestnut brown head as opposed to the grey crown of a house sparrow and the presence of a white streak on either side of the tree sparrow's face is another trait that the house sparrow does not share.
Not only is a tree sparrow's head quite different from that of a house sparrow but its body has some differences too. One of these differences is between the sparrow's bibs; the tree sparrow has an extremely short and narrow bib when compared to the extensive and wide bib of a house sparrow.
Juvenile tree sparrows look much the same as the adults, only slightly duller and with dark cheeks devoid of the streaks of white.
Tree sparrows feed insects to their young in the breeding season but are more accustomed to eating seeds for the rest of the year. They prefer smaller seeds than most garden birds; red millet is their firm favourite food.
Wild Bird Profile: Jay
The jay is a garden visitor that is most likely to be seen during the autumn. This is because every autumn the jay hoards and buries acorns which it saves for reclaiming later in the year, over winter when food sources are scarce. Not every acorn buried by a jay gets reclaimed though, which means that this hoarding of acorns helps to widen the areas in which oak trees grow.
Jays are easily recognisable by the bright blue flash on their wings and their overall brown-pink plumage. They are of the crow family and are relatively similar in size to that of a rook. The wings have black tips, as does the tail and the face has a black stripe beneath either eye and behind the bill giving the impression of a moustache.
Being a member of the crow family, jays are happy to eat a wide variety of foods. They will eat carrion, the eggs of other birds and occasionally their young too. They will also happily eat peanuts, suet products and wild bird mixes.
Wild Bird Profile: Siskin
The siskin is most commonly mistaken for a greenfinch and visits gardens during winter and early spring. It is one of the smallest birds in the finch family and is even dwarfed by a goldfinch. It has a narrower bill than most finches and its tail splays outwards in two directions creating a fork.
The adult male siskin has a bright yellow face with olive cheeks and a black cap; its wings are predominantly black with a bright yellow wing-band which stands out amongst the black. The tips of its tail are black which fade to an olive colour before becoming a bright yellow on the male's back.
Female siskins are greener in colour and don't have the black cap exhibited by the male. They have a more mottled appearance with streaks on their tops and bottoms. Juvenile siskins have the same general appearance as that of the females but are brown in colour and look even more mottled.
Siskins will visit a garden that has peanuts on offer in the winter; this is because peanuts are a high energy food that is of great importance to their well-being in colder weather. Other high energy foods that siskins are likely to enjoy include sunflower hearts and suet products.
Wild Bird Profile: Dunnock
Dunnocks have quite a dull appearance but can be fascinating to watch in the breeding season. They are similar in size to that of a house sparrow but with a finer bill and a more slender frame. This resemblance to house sparrows has led to dunnocks being referred to as hedge sparrows, even though they are not part of the sparrow family.
The adult dunnock has a rather dull and dreary plumage which is a mixture of grey, brown and black. Its head is brown speckled with black and it has a grey bib that reaches down from the back of its neck and over its chest. The rest of a dunnock's body is of a warm muddy brown with specks of black. Its wings seem to merge the two body colours which results them being a dark brown-black colour with a streaked finish.
Juvenile dunnocks have paler eyes than the adults which gradually change colour; this leaves them with deep red-brown coloured eyes over their first winter and through Christmas.
Dunnocks are insectivores meaning they will appreciate any live or dried insects made available in gardens. Over the winter months they will also appreciate any suet or fat products that are left out for them too.
Wild Bird Profile: Yellowhammer
One of the lesser seen garden bird visitors, the yellowhammer is most likely to be seen in rural gardens close to arable farmland. It is one of the larger buntings with a distinctive forked tail.
Adult male yellowhammers have a reddish-brown coloured plumage with intermittent streaks of black. In the breeding season their heads are bright yellow as are their stomachs, for the rest of the year their bright plumage is replaced with a more faded yellow on the face and stomach. Female and juvenile yellowhammers are duller in appearance when compared to the males and often only have a hint of yellow visible on their plumage at all.
Yellowhammers are usually content with eating seeds that occur naturally or are grown on arable land. They will visit gardens in the winter when these naturally occurring seeds are not as readily available. Offering wild bird mixes or a selection of straight seeds in your garden over winter is likely to attract yellowhammers as long as you live in a rural area.
Wild Bird Profile: Goldcrest
The goldcrest is a tiny, quite frequent garden visitor which is easily overlooked. It doesn't come as a great surprise that goldcrests are often not noticed in gardens as they are the smallest garden bird in Europe. The goldcrest is so small that at its full adult size it still only weighs just over six grams.
Adult male goldcrests are of an olive colour on their backs. They have wings with black tips and white edging, as well as a dirty white underbelly. The male goldcrest's head has a golden orange flash on the crown with a black stripe on either side; this is the main differentiator between male, female and juvenile goldcrests. The golden orange colour is absent on the crown of a female goldcrest and is replaced by a flash of pure yellow, though the black side stripes remain. Juvenile goldcrests do not have any colour on their crown at all. Goldcrests are insectivores, mainly eating small spiders and flies. There is only one thing that can really be provided for feeding goldcrests and that is mini mealworms. The only other way to give goldcrests a helping hand is through providing them shelter in the winter. This will reduce the amount of birds that die due to the cold temperatures.
Wild Bird Profile: Lesser Redpoll
The lesser redpoll is a very small finch that is most often seen in gardens over winter. It likes to hang upside down whilst feeding and can be seen displaying this behaviour on the branches of trees.
The lesser redpoll is quite a recognisable finch. It has a bright red patch that runs backwards from the top of its beak to the middle of its crown. Its wings are a mixture of striped black and grey-yellow and it has black markings on its face that resemble a beard and eye mask. Its under-parts are white to cream in colour with lines of faded yellow, black and grey, and it has a smattering of pale red across its breast.
Like most other finches, the lesser redpoll is partial to nyjer seed. It also likes sunflower hearts and other seeds; it can most commonly be seen feeding from bird feeders.
Wild Bird Profile: Carrion Crow & Rook
There are two members of the corvid family that are a common sight through all of Britain, the carrion crow and the rook. Both of these corvids are smaller than a raven and can be quite hard to tell apart from one another. Because many corvids are the same colour they are hard to identify by their plumage, this makes relying on their shapes and features to differentiate between them the most viable route.
The carrion crow is completely black in appearance and has a much darker bill than the rook. It also lacks the unkempt feathery thighs which the rook exhibits. The carrion crow has a distinctive shape to its head that is not present in the rook. Its head is almost flat to the ridge of its beak whereas the rook's head has a pronounced peak, giving the impression of a steep fore head.
These two corvid birds don't only differ from each other in their features; they also display very different types of behaviour. Carrion crows are considerably less sociable than rooks and tend to be seen in pairs or small groups when feeding. Rooks on the other hand are extremely social and even nest in large groups. The colonies they form are known as rookeries and can consist of up to one hundred pairs of breeding rooks. The carrion crow maintains its unsociable behaviour when nesting and will create a solitary nest that has a large breeding territory around it. It will only cooperate with neighbouring crows if it needs to fend off predators or potential intruders.
Both the carrion crow and the rook will eat any food that is left out in the garden. This can become problematic as they will often devour all of the food, leaving little to nothing for the smaller more desirable garden visitors. There are several ways to deter corvids from eating all of the food on offer including the use of caged feeders. Another tactic that often works well is to provide your local crows and rooks with food in an elevated area. This will become the main focus of their attention and will distract them from marauding any feeders that are left at a lower height.
Wild Bird Profile: Jackdaw
Most birds in the corvid family are a more common sight in the countryside; this is not the case however for the jackdaw. Jackdaws have appropriated parts of buildings in urban areas and adopted them as nesting sites. This urban breeding habitat is ideal because it provides jackdaws with plentiful sources of food in surrounding gardens.
The jackdaw is the smallest corvid in Britain and the adults have a very striking pale off-white eye. Like most corvids they are almost completely black and display areas of grey in certain places. Jackdaws mate for life and go from place to place in pairs. They are extremely intelligent birds that are capable of making and using tools, they can even be taught tricks if tamed.
Jackdaws will eat almost any food left out for them in a garden. In the breeding season the male will be frantically looking for sources of food to feed its chicks and will happily feed on anything from invertebrate insects to peanuts and seeds.
Wild Bird Profile: Collared Dove
One of the more recent wild birds to become native to Britain, collared doves began breeding here in 1955. Since then the collared dove has thrived and become a relatively common sight in many British gardens.
Collared doves are smaller than wood pigeons and have a more elegant shape than feral pigeons. They are grey in appearance with a moleskin effect. The name of the collared dove stems from the appearance of a black collar with a white trim on the back of the bird's neck. Their bills are black and their wings range from a cool grey around the edges to a much warmer almost brown-grey towards the middle. Juvenile collared doves look almost exactly the same as the adults. The only real difference is that their black collars are not quite as prominent as the adult's.
Collared doves will be attracted by any bird food that is offered from a bird table, from the ground or from a dish in an elevated area. They are keen on most types of bird seed and will happily clean up after birds that have been feeding from hanging feeders.
Wild Bird Profile: Woodpigeon
A wild bird that is often seen as a pest, the woodpigeon is the largest species of pigeon in Britain.
Woodpigeons are very easy to identify and are also very well known. They have a distinctive blue-grey plumage with a hue of pink on the chest that
fades as it gets lower on the body. Their wings and tail have dark grey-black tips that stand out when stationary and during flight. Adult woodpigeons have an obvious white patch on their neck which is not usually seen in juveniles, they also have a white wing-bar that is seen in all ages of woodpigeon.
Woodpigeons will happily make short work of any bird food that is left out on the ground or on bird tables. They have also been known to deliberately knock hanging feeders whilst in flight, spilling the contents onto the floor. This voracious appetite is what tends to make pigeons an unwanted guest in many gardens. Utilising a ground feeder haven or caged bird feeder is usually a good way to prevent woodpigeons from ransacking your garden.
Wild Bird Profile: Turtle Dove
The turtle dove is a very small dove, being only slightly larger than a blackbird. It is a bird that only visits in the summer and has become a rare sight in recent years.
The turtle dove's name is derived from the pattern displayed on its wings. Each wing has a pattern of black frilled with orange-brown giving the effect of a turtle shell. Its head is grey in colour and its neck has a series of flashes which create a distinctive black and white patch. The tail of the turtle dove is also black in colour and when examined closely has a defined white edge.
Turtle doves will feed on a range of bird foods that are made available for them. If you do manage to attract any turtle doves into your garden you will be in the minority. This is because turtle doves have been in decline for several years and are currently considered to be at a conservation concern of red status.
Wild Bird Profile: Nuthatch
The nuthatch is a wild bird that is not often seen in many gardens. This is because it requires dense woodland as its main habitat and prefers to fly only short distances. If you are lucky enough to have a nuthatch visiting your garden it should be very easy to recognise.
Its bright orange-yellow breast and slate blue back are separated by a white face with a black eye-stripe. The wings on a nuthatch transition from slate blue at the base to a dark blue-black at the tip, a small portion at the tip of the tail presents the same blackish hue.
Nuthatches can become reliant upon bird food in the winter months. The protein and fat content of suet products is e
specially important to nuthatches in the winter as it contains nutrients provided by natural food sources that have become scarce.
Wild Bird Profile: Treecreeper
The treecreeper can be seen in a very specific microhabitat. Fortunately this microhabitat of the trunk and branches of trees occurs in many parts of Britain.
The treecreeper is similar in size to a wren and has a curved bill that is ideal for foraging amongst natural holes in the bark of trees. Treecreepers can be hard to spot even if they are regularly visiting your garden. This is because their plumage is brown on top and speckled with yellow, black and white giving the effect of bark on a tree. Seeming that treecreepers are likely to be on the trunk or branch of a tree, this bark-like pattern in its plumage acts as effective camouflage. The easiest way to spot a treecreeper is from the side, this reveals its white underbelly which stands out from the bark and does not appear to be utilised as natural camouflage.
Because the treecreeper relies on such a specific area for accessing food it can be negatively affected by certain types of winter weather. Any weather that leaves the trunks of trees damp on the outside can lead to them icing over in cold conditions, this prevents the treecreeper from accessing its main source of food and can lead to starvation. To aid any treecreepers throughout the winter months you can simply smear fat or peanut butter onto the trunks of large trees in the area. This provides the treecreepers with ample food in a location they are accustomed to foraging in.
Wild Bird Profile: Wren
The wren is a relatively shy garden bird and is often heard in gardens but not so easily seen. This is because wrens prefer to feed and nest in dense undergrowth and are likely to visit gardens with hedgerows or that are close to brambles or other dense plants.
This small bird can be very easy to identify once it has been located and looks more impressive on close inspection. It has an overall earthy brown plumage with a tail that shows shades of red. These shades of red are also apparent on the wings in places, though they are accompanied by regular small dots of black. The breast of the wren is lighter in colour than the rest of its body with a mottled white effect. This effect becomes stronger and lighter as it meets the white stripe above the wren's eye.
The main diet of the wren consists of insects and spiders. In nesting season it is an eradicator of many insect larvae which are considered pests including the larvae of the winter moth. To attract wrens to your garden the best food to provide for these wild birds is either live or dried mealworms. Even though wrens are likely to eat the food on offer it doesn't necessarily mean that you will see them take it. The main time you are likely to spot a wren taking the food you provide is during the colder periods of winter, when they are most likely to take scraps from beneath feeders and bird tables.
Wild Bird Profile: Mistle Thrush
The mistle thrush is an early breeder amongst wild birds and can be very possessive over certain sources of food including fruit bearing trees. Because of the mistle thrush's large size (being bigger than a blackbird) it tends to have a relatively easy time monopolising its chosen sources of food.
It isn't only the mistle thrush's size that makes it stand out and easy to identify; it has a very pale undercarriage that is almost white and covered in flecks of dark brown. It also has white under-wings that separate it from other thrushes and white tips to several of its tail feathers. The back and head of the mistle thrush are a dark brown with pale grey overtones; its face appears mainly white and is mottled with the same brown as its undercarriage.
Because of the monopolising of natural food sources the mistle thrush will not necessarily benefit much from food being left out in the garden. However if there is a shortage of food in the colder months they are most likely to become reliant upon the provision of dried fruit or live foods such as mealworms.
Wild Bird Profile: Fieldfare
A winter garden visitor in the UK, the fieldfare is a thrush that doesn't tend to breed in Britain. It is more likely to visit gardens in the colder winter months when its natural sources of food are scarce.
The fieldfare is one of the larger wild birds in the thrush family. It has a white underbelly which is flanked by dark brown spots; its chest also has brown spots but the base colour transitions from white to a pale orange-yellow. The pattern from the chest continues upwards onto the fieldfare's throat, where it meets the dark grey colour of its head. The wings and tail on the fieldfare are a dark chestnut brown with the wings having a pale white-brown edging and the tail becoming almost black towards its tip.
Fieldfares are partial to invertebrates and only resort to eating fruit when eating invertebrates is not an option. They are reluctant to visit gardens unless they have no other choice. Providing dried or live mealworms in your garden as well as dried or leftover fruit is the best way to encourage fieldfares by lending a helping hand.
Wild Bird Profile: Song Thrush
A small to medium size member of the thrush family, the song thrush is an early breeder with some chicks fledging in early March. It is one of the more popular song birds and has recently seen a serious decline in numbers, placing it on the red list of conservation.
Not only is the song thrush smaller than the fieldfare and mistle thrush, it also has a distinctive warm orange-brown plumage across its back, wings and head. Its flanks are lined with dark brown spots and its underbelly changes from a pale yellow to white in the middle. The spots from the song thrush's chest and underbelly continue upwards towards the base of its bill and begin to merge with the brown of the head as they reach the cheeks.
One of the favourite foods of the song thrush is snails, song thrushes can often be seen bashing them against rocks and stones to break the shell and claim the prize from inside. Like most other thrushes, the song thrush is more likely to feed from the ground and is most commonly attracted to gardens in the winter, if fruit and insects are provided that contain nutrients that have become hard to find from naturally occurring foods.
Wild Bird Profile: Blackcap
A wild bird that was traditionally a summer visitor that migrated south across the Sahara Desert in the winter, the blackcap has now become a winter visitor to parts of the UK after a recent evolutionary event. This change in behaviour is most likely due to a decent supply of food being provided in a number of British gardens over winter, saving blackcaps the ordeal of their desert crossing and increasing their chances of winter survival.
The blackcap is a warbler that is close to the size of a goldfinch. As its name suggests, one of the defining features of a blackcap is the cap that stands out against the grey of its head. The cap itself though is only black in adult males, with juveniles and females having a cap that is brown in colour. Adult males also have a slightly different colour of plumage to that of the females and juveniles, with the adult male having an overall plumage of cold pale grey and the others having a warm grey-brown plumage all over. Blackcaps of all ages and genders have the same dirty grey colour on their backs.
Blackcaps are attracted to southern gardens in the winter that have a constant supply of berries suet or both. They can be seen feeding from tables, feeders and the ground in winter months. In the summer blackcaps are attracted to the same types of food but prefer to feed in a more elevated location.
Wild Bird Profile: Robin
One of the best known species of wild bird in Britain, the robin is one of the easiest garden birds to identify.
All adult robins have a very distinctive red breast and are greyish brown all over. Its round stout shape is also a characteristic unique to robins amongst garden birds. Juvenile robins do not display the recognisable red breast of the adults and instead have a breast that is mottled with dark brown, their overall colour also errs more towards brown than it does grey.
A surprising fact about the robin is that its species name was only officially listed in 1952, before this they were officially referred to as redbreasts or ruddocks.
Even though robins are considered to be a bird that is associated with winter and Christmas, they are actually a bird that is native to Britain and can be seen all year round. Their association with Christmas is thought to come from the 18th century when Christmas cards were delivered by postmen wearing bright red uniforms. The postmen became known as ‘redbreasts' or ‘robins' and the bird became a symbol on Christmas cards representing the postmen who delivered them.
Robins are a softbill bird and are mostly interested in eating fruit and insects, in cold winter months they also rely on the provision of suet products but one of the robin's favourite foods regardless of the time of year is dried mealworms.
Wild Bird Profile: Brambling
A relative of the chaffinch that tends to visit British gardens over winter, the brambling is most likely to be seen visiting gardens when there is a short supply of beech mast (the nuts of a beech tree).
When identifying a brambling it is easiest to look for a bird the size of a chaffinch. Although the brambling is more or less the same size as a chaffinch, that is where the similarity ends; bramblings have a very distinctive orange breast and specks of black across the neck and upper back. Their head plumage is a mixture of black and pale orange-grey, with the black specks creating a tortoiseshell effect. The brambling's undercarriage is white and its wings are orange with black wing-bars.
Being a winter visitor, bramblings are most likely to benefit from wild bird food with high energy content such as sunflower hearts, peanuts and suet products.
Wild Bird Profile: Reed Bunting
A visitor to gardens in only the harshest winter conditions, the reed bunting is rarely seen I people's gardens.
The reed bunting is of a medium size with a large head and relatively thick neck. Reed buntings are most likely to be seen in the winter; because of this trying to identify them based on their summer plumage is almost pointless. In the winter the distinctive black head and white collar of the reed bunting are hidden by the warm beige of its winter plumage, this makes its bright brown-orange back with marks of black on the wings one of the easiest methods of identification. The reed bunting also displays a brownish-grey crown that is recognisable throughout the year and can further help with identification.
Reed buntings are a seed eating bird and in colder winter months are likely to visit local gardens that provide wild bird mixes and sunflower hearts.
Wild Bird Profile: Black-Headed Gull
The most likely bird to be seen in droves at landfill sites and immediately after a filed has been ploughed; the black-headed gull defies its name for a large portion of the year.
Over breeding season during the summer, the black-headed gull's namesake becomes apparent with its head becoming almost completely covered in a very dark brown. For the rest of the year its head is almost completely white with only a tell-tale smudge of colour left behind. Most of the black-headed gull's plumage is generally white with the only other hint of black displayed on the tips of its tail. Its wings are a shade of grey that appears to be almost directly between the black of its tail and the white of its body.
Black-headed gulls mainly feed on insects and worms only relying on food provided in gardens over the winter, though they can be encouraged to make repeat visits to gardens that offer suet and fat balls all year-round.
Wild Bird Profile: Magpie
An unmistakeable British bird that is the object of many superstitions, the magpie is not always a welcome visitor to gardens.
The magpie is a wild bird that is most commonly considered to be black and white in colour, and when seen from a distance it does appear to simply have a white body with a black head, tail and wings. Upon closer inspection however the tail and wings on the magpie become much more
colourful with iridescent purple and blue colours forming on the wings and a bright green hue becoming quite apparent on the tail.
In Britain magpies have become a large figure in superstition with several traditional rhymes and actions associated with them. One of the most widely recognised superstitions is the nursery rhyme "One for Sorrow” in which the number of magpies seen relates to either good or bad luck. There are many localised versions of this song with slightly differing lyrics; the most widely known version is as follows:
One for sorrow
Two for Joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told
Magpies will eat any food left out in a garden and are likely to begin feeding in small flocks if they are not deterred. This is one of the reasons that they are not especially welcome in all gardens in Britain.
Wild Bird Profile: Pied Wagtail
A wild bird that can be seen all over the UK in many habitats including some towns and cities, the pied wagtail can be seen in Britain all year-round.
It is one of the easier wild birds to identify as it has a distinctive black and white plumage. Its face is white with a black cap and bib which frame it. The pied wagtail's undercarriage is white lower down and its flanks are a dusty dark grey. Its wings are a mixture of black and white and the tail is black on top and white below.
The plumage of the pied wagtail is not the only way in which to identify it, it also has very distinctive behaviour. As the name suggests, the pied wagtail can often be seen wagging its tail up and down vigorously, especially when it is zipping about over garden lawns and open ground.
Pied wagtails are mainly insectivorous birds and are not likely to be enticed into gardens with conventional seed mixes and suet products. They can however be encouraged into gardens through gardening. A myriad of wild birds will naturally visit a garden in which the right types of insect attracting flora and fauna have been planted.
Wild Bird Profile: Spotted Flycatcher
A bird that is most likely to be seen in Britain over summer, the spotted flycatcher will pick a suitable perch for hunting and use it for quite a while. Although it may seem rather drab in appearance, when seen close up the spotted flycatcher's plumage has intricate patterns that add to its understated beauty.
The spotted flycatcher has a plumage ion its breast and undercarriage of creamy beige with consistent spotted lines of brown running from the bottom of its beak down past its chest. The same brown spotted lines can be seen starting from the top of the bill and heading backwards across the top of the head. Its back and wings are a shade of brown-grey, with the wings appearing darker than the back.
As mentioned before the spotted flycatcher lives up to its name, mainly eating insects in flight and occasionally hopping around on the ground. This means that the best way to attract them into your garden is by planting flowers and other plants that attract flying insects.
Wild Bird Profile: Pied Flycatcher
A summer garden visitor mainly seen in the west of Britain, the pied flycatcher is a small bird with quite distinctive plumage.
The male pied flycatcher has an almost entirely black and white plumage. Its back and the top of its head are black with a prominent spot of white above the beak; similarly the wings are mainly black with a bright white flash across them. The male flycatcher's tail is also black in colour on top and its entire undercarriag
e from the tail's tip to the bottom of the beak is a very striking bright white. In contrast to the male's starkly contrasted plumage, the female's plumage has varying shades of brown, grey, cream and beige.
Although their name suggests it, pied flycatchers to not solely rely on a diet of insects, they have also been known to feed on fruit as well.
Wild Bird Profile: House Martin
A small bird that likes to nest high up often under the eaves of buildings, the house martin is often a common sight in Britain throughout the spring and summer months. They are relatively easy to identify because they have a distinctive shape with a wide forked wedge-like tail.
House martins also display colours that are not often apparent in other species of martin. They are mainly a dark shimmering blue on top with a white patch between the tail and small of the back which stands out. The house martin's undercarriage is completely white with a dusky beige-brown on the bottom of the wings. The tops of the wings are noticeably streaked with black.
House martins are insectivores and as such are not likely to be attracted to gardens via the provision of wild bird seed mixes and fat products, though this doesn't mean that they are that hard to attract. The best way to attract house martins to your garden and general area is by providing them with a home. If you do manage to acquire a pair of house martin residents they are likely to keep you entertained for hours with their aerial acrobatics.
House martins will not nest in conventional nest boxes because their natural mud nests quite closely resemble a semicircle, nest boxes of this shape are ideal when trying to obtain them as residents and are available from most wild bird retailers.
Wild Bird Profile: Swallow
A popular summer bird that can be seen in amazing aerial displays, the swallow is a widespread breeding bird in Britain that then flies south in flocks for the winter. One of the easiest ways to identify a swallow is by looking at its tail which really stands out when in flight. The forked tail of the swallow is so exaggerated that it appears to have a long pointed streamer on either side.
The plumage of an adult swallow consists mainly of three colours white, red and blue. Its underside is mainly white with blue on its tail and towards the back of its wings. It has a dark blue head with a red beard and cap, and its back and the top of its wings are predominantly dark blue in colour. Juvenile swallows have markings that are very similar to those of the adults, though there are some differences with the juvenile having a lighter shade of blue in its plumage and a paler orange beard and cap.
Swallows are not often seen in British gardens but can frequently be seen above them. This is because they are accustomed to catching small insects in flight. This in turn makes them uninterested in conventional bird food, giving them little reason to visit summer gardens. A good way to attract swallows in to your area is by planting flowers that attract and sustain a wide variety of flying insects.
Wild Bird Profile: Swift
A wild bird that tends to appear as a silhouette against the sky, the swift spends so much time in flight that it has been known to sleep whilst on the wing. It is easily identified by its forked tail which resembles scissor blades and its broad pointed wings.
When seen in flight the swift appears to be black in colour but on closer inspection its plumage is a mixture of brown, black, white and cream. The only part of a swift that has one stand-out colour is its chin. The chin is a pale creamy beige patch on an otherwise dark plumage with tiny specks of light brown creating a mottled effect.
It is not often that you will see a lone swift as they tend to travel in flocks, occasionally separating to catch insects in flight.
Swifts seen in denser populations are usually in the south of Britain though they are a relatively common sight UK-wide. They migrate south in the winter with the majority wintering in Africa. The optimum time of day to spot a flock of swifts is at dusk, when they are hunting for flying insects.