Frequently Asked Questions
Dogs and bird foods with raisins/sultanas.
Please don't allow your dog to eat bird food - it's for the birds. Some bird foods may include raisins/sultanas and these can be toxic to dogs (even when cooked). Visit the RSPCA's website for more advice; however, if your dog has eaten raisins it's important you seek a vet's advice immediately as prompt veterinary attention to affected animals means that most cases are not fatal. Early signs of distress could be vomiting and diarrhoea and subsequently kidney failure (which may occur a few days after the initial effects). Be safe, put raisins out of reach or don't feed them at all if your dog could access them. There are plenty of seed mixes without raisins.
Should I vary the bird food I feed or just keep feeding the same thing?
“Birds favour different foods at different times of the year. In summer "soft" live foods are favoured by, for example, Blue and Great Tits, and the nestlings are fed nothing else. You can help enormously by providing meal worms. However, the same species have to change their diets in winter, when insects are not available. The tits switch to berries, nuts and seeds. Mealworms and "soft foods" will be even more welcome then, along with the traditional peanuts and fats. High energy Niger seeds are also very popular, especially with the small finches. Take a look at Haith’s bird foods and you’ll soon see that varying the bird diet is beneficial to birds.” – Bill Oddie
How should I feed bird food?
“Watch your garden birds and you will soon realize that different species prefer to feed at different levels. Make sure you provide food accordingly... some on the ground, some in feeders, and some on tables.” – Bill Oddie.
How can I make a difference in my small garden when bird populations have plummeted nationally?
“Think globally, act locally. A catch phrase invented by Friends of the Earth some years ago, but still a pretty good motto. Be honest, thinking globally can be both daunting and depressing! Acting locally is effective and satisfying. So what exactly can you do to help wildlife and conservation?
• In your own garden: feed the birds, encourage other wildlife. Grow organically and don't use chemicals.
• In your neighbourhood: If you became aware of threats to local wild places, protest to local government. Get together with other people who feel as you do.
• Join in voluntary activities, such as neighbourhood litter clear ups, or improving communal green spaces, or local nature reserves.
• Join your county Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, or other conservation organisations. Volunteer to help them. Go on outings and field trips.
• Buy organic foods, and products which contribute to conservation.
• Learn more about the wildlife in your garden, or further afield, and get out and enjoy it!
Do as much or as little as suits your lifestyle....... but do something!” – Bill Oddie.
How can I attract bats?
“The first thing to stress is that if you have bats roosting in your loft, you should be honoured and flattered. It is a sign of a clean roof space. Otherwise, I don't think you can actually entice them in, and in any case you may not know they are there. Especially if they are the diminutive Pipistrelles, which can literally slip under the tiles. You can’t hear the actual calls of bats, but you can by "translating" them into sounds using a bat detector. You are most likely to see bats over your garden if you have a decent sized pond that attracts lots of flies at dusk. You can also put up bat boxes, which look like bird boxes without an entrance hole. (They have a narrow slot instead)” – Bill Oddie.
What do Butterflies do and how can I attract more of them?
“Butterflies love -and indeed need - quite a lot of the things gardener's hate. Several species only lay their eggs on nettles, whilst others favour Ivy. So don't tidy up too much. Buddleia is known as the "butterfly bush" (and as a rampant giant weed to some gardeners!). Also cultivate an area of native British wildflowers. Especially some of the chalk land species, such as Knapweed, Scabious, and Bird's Foot Trefoil.” – Bill Oddie.
How can I attract foxes into my garden?
“A matter of getting lucky. Or unlucky, if you're kept awake by the blood curdling noises foxes make! Urban foxes are getting bolder. Last year, I had one refuse to move from its sleeping place by my back door; whilst another wouldn't leave the garden until he'd eaten a whole brood of newly fledged Blackbirds! Sad, but he was ever so handsome.” – Bill Oddie.
What to feed Hedgehogs?
“First rule: no chemicals on the garden. Slugs and snails eat the poison. Hedgehogs eat the slugs and snails. They are natural pest control, so encourage them by leaving a few cosy log piles and old leaves where they may hibernate, or a specially designed Hedgehog home. Contrary to popular belief, cow's milk is not good for them. They'd prefer a dish of dog food or Haith's Hedgehog food.” – Bill Oddie.
Where might I see a Red Squirrel?
“Arguably the nation's favourite animal, but you are unlikely to get them south of Northumberland and the Lake District, whilst in Scotland the Reds are the only squirrels. It would have to be a very big garden with equally big trees to suit a Red Squirrel. However, they will come to specially designed feeders, where they are partial to nuts and seeds.” – Bill Oddie.
Any tips for managing Grey Squirrels?
“If you feed the birds, Grey Squirrels are probably the bane of your life. They will not only nick all the food, they will probably destroy expensive feeders, many of which may claim to be "squirrel proof". Very few are! Personally, I try to satiate them by giving them their very own peanuts in a squirrel feeder. But it's never enough.” – Bill Oddie.
Is it possible to (humanely) beat the squirrel?
“A friend of mine designed and then built a homemade bird table. He was very proud of it, especially when it was almost immediately visited by birds. Unfortunately, it was soon also invaded by Grey Squirrels. He immediately resolved to invent a deterrent. He started by simply moving the table further from his hedgerow. No good. Squirrels can leap a very long way. Then he tried fixing a sort of circular baffle under the table. The squirrels fell off a few times, but soon clambered over it, and then chewed it to bits. Next came the greasy pole experiment. This worked for while, and it was fun watching the squirrels sliding back to the ground. However, it wasn't long before the grease rubbed off onto the squirrel's fur, which meant they could get a grip, as it were. Next, he fitted a length of piping over the pole, under the table, suspended on springs. He figured that the squirrels might be able to scramble over it, but at least he'd have the satisfaction of seeing the pipe spring back and whack them on their behinds! The last I heard, the squirrels had stretched the springs so far that they didn't spring any more. They have eaten all the bird food, and my friend has decided to build a new Hi Fi cabinet instead.
So, are any of these squirrel proof feeders really squirrel proof? Well, I've tried them all, and so have my garden Greys. I'd say that most of them work, most of the time, but there's no denying the squirrels ingenuity or tenacity, and you almost have to admire them for it. One thing you do have to accept is that many of these contraptions look more like flying saucers, space rockets or pieces of modern sculpture than bird feeders. I can't say they exactly blend in with the concept of an old fashioned rustic garden! But if you do have a squirrel problem, you really have to try them. It's no coincidence, by the way, that many of the most successful designs come from America, which is of course where Grey Squirrels actually belong (they were introduced into England early in the twentieth century, 'cos someone thought they were cute. Oops!)” – Bill Oddie.
Who’s eaten all the songbirds?
“There is no denying that millions of birds and birds’ eggs are consumed every year by "predators". This is natural. It may seem harsh, but a proportion of eggs and chicks are "meant" to end up as food for other creatures. Crows, Jays, Magpies and Sparrowhawks all include small birds and eggs in their diets. However, extensive studies have proved that their predation is not responsible for the decline of some of our songbirds. Grey Squirrels and rats are also "culprits", and are arguably less a natural part of British fauna. Cats are - I'm sorry, but it's true - entirely "unnatural." And make no mistake; cats are responsible for far more bird deaths than anything else. You may feel certain you are seeing more Magpies or Sparrowhawks in recent years, but their numbers are minute compared with the British population of cats. So what’s to be done? Well, if you own a cat please at least attach a bell, and better still keep it in at night (when they do most of their hunting). Whoever invented the concept of "putting the cat out" wasn't a bird lover! If you want to keep your garden cat free, there are various products available that may deter them. Personally, I resolve to rushing out and hissing like a giant "tom", which generally gives the local moggies the idea that they are not entirely welcome!” – Bill Oddie.
Which nest box should I choose?
“As well as the "traditional" nest boxes, used mainly by Blue and Great Tits, you can provide custom built homes for several other species. Open boxes for Robins and Spotted Flycatchers. Larger hole boxes for Starlings, Nuthatches and so on. Owl boxes and artificial House Martin nests. And -perhaps most welcome of all - House Sparrow boxes. No one really knows why House Sparrows have declined so much in our cities but certainly lack of holes and crevices in modern buildings doesn't help. Sparrow boxes might. Don't forget though to leave or even create "natural" nesting places. Leave lots of Ivy. Don't thin out the bushier trees. Don't demolish that old wall or dilapidated shed. They are all potential nest sites.” – Bill Oddie.