To feed or not to feed - that is the question

01 May 2014 | No. 2014-28

The British Trust  for Ornithology (BTO) Garden BirdWatch (GBW) team often get asked during the summer whether, or not, to continue feeding garden birds. The answer is yes; the BTO’s advice is to feed all year round as garden birds may struggle to find food at any time of year.

Historically, we only fed the garden birds in the winter when the weather turned cold. However, in the summer birds have the challenge of finding enough food for themselves and their chicks. Feeding the birds during the breeding season allows adults to utilise supplementary foods such as sunflower seeds for themselves, freeing up precious natural invertebrate food for the chicks.

Make sure the food that you are providing is suitable to the season – in the summer, it is best to avoid whole loose peanuts in case the parents try to feed them to their chicks. Investing in live foods such as mealworms can be beneficial.

Bear in mind that prolonged chilly or rainy conditions can make it hard for birds to find natural food, even in the summer, and at times like these additional food supplies can make all the difference to parents feeding a nest of hungry chicks. At the end of the breeding season most adult birds will completely replace their feathers in their annual moult, at which time good nutrition is particularly important.

However, while feeding does benefit garden birds overall, garden feeding stations can potentially add to the spread of disease.  Fortunately, there are simple measures you can take. Clare Simm, from the BTO Garden BirdWatch team commented, "We regularly receive enquiries about preventing disease from spreading in gardens. The GBW handy guide to disease and hygiene has useful suggestions on how to clean your feeding stations, the different types of disease that are common in garden birds and what to do if you find a sick bird in your garden."

The GBW team has produced a free guide to disease and hygiene with simple precautions and guidelines. The free disease and hygiene guide is available from the BTO Garden BirdWatch team in both paper and online versions. Request yours today by emailing gbw [at], calling 01842 750050, or by writing to GBW Disease and Hygiene Guide, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24

Notes for Editors

  1. The BTO Garden BirdWatch is the only nationwide survey of garden birds to run weekly throughout the year, providing important information on how birds use gardens, and how this use changes over time. Currently, some 14,500 people take part in the project. The project is funded by participants’ contributions and is the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world. For more information see
  2. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations.

Contact Details

Clare Simm
(BTO GBW Development Officer)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: clare.simm [at]

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] quoting reference 2014-28

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews.
Please contact us to book an interview
Office: 01842 750050

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