Best Bird Feeders: Create a Space for Sparrows and Co.

Many birds depend on human help during the wintertime. But not just any old birdhouse will do! Find out here which feeder styles are the best fit for your garden and, more importantly, the surrounding wildlife.

Best Bird Feeders: Create a Space for Sparrows and Co.

A bird feeder on the balcony adds a lovely decorative touch to your home. Once the sparrows, wrens, and robins come to feed, your garden will become quite the wildlife hotspot! But is getting food from humans really necessary for birds? After all, nature does offer a wide bounty of food. "Birds that come here to spend the winter or live all year round in our regions are actually perfectly adapted and can also feed themselves at sub-zero temperatures," says Eric Neuling, bird conservation officer at the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (aka NABU). "The problem, however, is that their natural food sources are disappearing. That's why bird feeders are useful for feathered guests, not only in winter."

Garden Birds Need Your Help!

In addition to the many asphalt and gravel surfaces in the cities, well-kept tidy gardens are also responsible for the food shortage, explains the expert. "Normally, birds still find some insect larvae and centipedes under old foliage or make use of the dried seed stands of shrubs. If that is missing because everything is swept away and cut off cleanly, birds can have difficulties finding food." In these cases and to get to know birds better, NABU recommends feeding birds in winter. However, this has little to do with nature conservation, explains Eric Neuling. "You can't save a threatened bird species with a feeding place, but you help some birds make it through the winter."

Feed Silos and Savers

A robin on a snowy branch

But what does an optimal feeding space look like? The classic birdhouse with a roof and lots of space underneath is now considered outdated. Birds often use the open space to walk around on strewn out seed or millet. The feed can then be contaminated with bacteria from the birds’ feet, potentially transmitting germs or diseases to other birds. Bird conservationists, therefore, recommend feed silos and feed dispensers. The advantage: only a certain amount of feed gets released at a time, meaning that feed is less likely to be lying around for a long period of time, thereby lowering the risk of contamination.

Nevertheless, you don't have to throw away the old birdhouse! "If you want to keep using an old birdhouse, you have to keep it clean," says Eric Neuling. The surface has to be cleaned regularly and old food should be removed. You should also make sure that the food does not get wet.

What to Feed Birds

If you want to do even more for domestic garden and songbirds, you should consider their different tastes. For example, robins, blackcaps, blackbirds and dunnocks prefer soft foods, such as raisins and oat flakes. Blackbirds also love fallen fruit and apples at a feeding place. Titmice, sparrows, finches and nuthatches, on the other hand, need grains or fat. Fat balls, a hit with titmice (who require fat in their diet), aren’t likely to be popular with bird species who only eat grain.

"In order to help as many species as possible in winter, you should mix the food," recommends Eric Neuling. Add some raisins and oatmeal to sunflower seeds. Protein-rich foods are always a good idea. A good alternative to fat balls are coconut shells filled with a mixture of fat and grains.

Red Cottage Multiholk Bird House or Bird Feeder

Red Cottage Multiholk Bird House or Bird Feeder

  • Robust design
  • Attractive design
  • Usable as feeder and birdhouse
  • A bit spendy
  • Not ideal for bigger birds
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This small Swedish cottage in a classic red and white Scandinavian design is a real eye-catcher for every garden and balcony. The high-quality cottage offers two practical functions for smaller birds such as blue tits or robins: in winter, the lower section with two perches serves as a feeding place; in spring and summer, a pair of birds can breed in the main house. The two perches can be removed and the nesting hole can be closed. The roof can be opened for cleaning and secured against pests (such as squirrels and rats) with two bolts.

Etree Hanging Lantern Bird Feeder

Etree Hanging Lantern Bird Feeder

  • Easy to refill
  • Durable design
  • Not waterproof, seed can get wet
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This basic feeder has a tried-and-true design which is a hit with birds and bird enthusiasts alike. Easy to fill and available in many colours, this is a low-maintenance way to decorate your garden and fill it with wildlife. The round perch and domed top allow birds to fly in from all angles and stay dry while grabbing a snack.

Opus [Perky-Pet] Hanging Seed Ball Bird Feeder

Opus [Perky-Pet] Hanging Seed Ball Bird Feeder

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A large refillable ball made of metal mesh, which also brings an interesting aesthetic to your garden. There is room for up to 300 g of seed, which should be plenty for even the most hungry flying friends. The 15 cm diameter allows many birds to feed from all angles at one time. Its hearty design makes this feeder particularly resistant to squirrels, rats and other unwanted garden company.

Happy Beaks Garden Bird Feeding Station

Happy Beaks Garden Bird Feeding Station

  • Multiple feeding capabilities
  • Includes water bowl
  • Open design
  • Difficult to clean
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This charming feed station meets the needs of soft feed and grain eaters alike. The station consists of two feeding silos, an open bowl for water or extra feed, a fruit pin for attaching an apple or a fat ball, and large mesh cages for suet blocks. The roof keeps the birds dry while feeding and can be lifted to allow for an easy refill.

Erdtmanns Big Seed Tower

Erdtmanns Big Seed Tower

  • High-quality design
  • Easy to clean
  • Lots of space for feed
  • A bit expensive
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This sturdy plexiglass column features six openings and rings for perching. This means that several birds can use the feeding column at the same time without disturbing each other. The column is 38 cm high and can hold a large amount of the feed of your choice. The transparent, waterproof design means that the feed remains dry and clearly visible, so you always know when your garden pals need a refill.

Location is Key!

Sometimes, a feeder in the garden might not attract as many bird friends as one may have hoped for. Eric Neuling advises patience. "Birds observe a new place for a while. They’ll only accept it once it seems safe" A reason why birds might stay away can be cats. If a cat is a regular visitor in your garden, it becomes a potentially dangerous zone for birds. The feeding area should be high enough so that cats cannot reach it. However, too much food can also make birds reluctant to visit. If they are already well cared for by neighbouring gardens, they will have no need for a new place. A good tip is to position the food silo so it’s open from all sides. "This way, birds have good access to the feeder and can immediately notice cats or birds of prey," explains Eric Neuling.

If the food dispenser is too close to the house or on the balcony, window panes can pose a danger to birds. Flower pots on the windowsill and window stickers or clings help birds identify that a window is present and keeps them from flying into it.

DIY Bird Feeder: Make your Own Bird Feeder or Birdhouse!

Some craftsmanship and a few materials from your local hardware store- that's all you need to build a solid birdhouse with a food dispenser on your own. Luckily, YouTube has a huge selection of DIY videos that will show you just how to construct your very own birdhouse or bird feeder. Just to be sure to double check that you have all the materials and tools on hand before you start a DIY project.