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Feeding the Birds

Tui in Prunus campanulata
Feeding birds gives delight to many people, especially those that are unable to leave their homes, the sick, the elderly and young children.

An area for feeding birds bird or a table needs to be away from windows where the reflection of trees in the glass may make a bird fly into it. It also needs to be where a cat cannot pounce and reach the feeding birds. Suspending a table from a branch of a tree may solve the cat problem. If you cannot do this then have the table at least 1.7m off the ground.

It is also fascinating having a birdbath in the garden.  Many birds will visit this, in particular starlings, blackbirds and thrushes and even fantails.  Other birds will visit just for a drink of water.  Do remember to clean the birdbath out every few days as birds do carry lice and the water will soon be contaminated with bird droppings and dirt.

Types of food for the birds

Bread: —   many people give bread to the birds. In winter, sparrows and other introduced birds such as mynas and starlings are quick to eat this up. Do remember that bread has salt in it and too much salt is not good for birds. In spring, when birds are nesting, the young chicks need protein in their diet, so cut down on the bread. The birds will then look for their own food and the chicks will have a varied diet. Do not feed mouldy bread to any birds.

Seeds: —   Seeds will bring in the introduced finches as well as the sparrows. You can use seeds from a pet shop or supermarket, or make your own up by buying different loose seeds and mixing it together. Some people buy lard, melt it and then add the seeds. When cold, this can be cut up, put into a fine net bag, and suspended from the tree, or hung off the bird table.

Household scraps can also be added to bird cakes.
Do not give desiccated coconut or salted peanuts, as this is not good for birds.

Fruit: —   Orange, grapefruit, apple and pear may be cut up and left on the bird table. Waxeyes and even tuis may come to love this fare. Remember that some birds may target your fruit trees. Do not put out any type of fruit that you want to harvest yourself. Alternatively, you may decide to share your fruit with the birds.

Kiwi fruit is becoming a problem plant pest in some areas, please do not feed the birds this fruit as the seeds may cause the plant to grow in the bush.

Sugar water: —   The native and endemic nectar eating birds such as tuis, bellbirds and waxeyes, welcome containers of sugar water when nectar flowering trees are in short supply. You will need a cup of sugar dissolved in 1 litre of warm water. When cooled place in a container in a tree that is visited by tui and bellbirds.

Feeding orphaned introduced birds

1.  Altricial birds: these are birds that are hatched naked. If they are naked or do not many feathers, keep them warm. Suspended a lightbulb (40watts) above the chicks to keep the temperature at 30° - 32°C  (86° - 90°F) until the bird has a good covering of feathers. Keep a thermometer by the chicks to check that the temperature is correct. When the chicks grow feathers, the temperature may be reduced until no extra heat is required.

Clean the container that the chicks are in at every feed. (The mother bird carries the faeces away each time she feeds the chicks).

The chicks will require feeding at least every hour, from early morning until sunset. You will soon find out if you are feeding enough as the birds will be calling for more. Some do require half-hourly feeding but as they become older and they take more at each feed, and you will be able to feed two-hourly. If you look at the side of the neck of the chick when feeding, you will see a swelling (like a bag. When this full, stop feeding the bird; when empty start again.

2.  Precocial birds: these are birds that are covered with down when they hatch. Ducks, chickens and most shore birds and waders are precocial. They also need to be at the same temperature as the altricial chicks. These birds unlike the naked chicks, run around as soon as they have dried after hatching. If the chicks huddle together, they may be too cold, so increase the heat by lowering the lightbulb. These chicks must be able to move to and from the heat source. After a few days, reduce the temperature in their box or enclosure. The birds can then go outside on a fine sunny day in a predator free run. Bring the birds in at night. Grass can be made available for grazing, also small worms. If the birds are outside give shade and protection from rain.

Species of orphan introduced chicks

1. Blackbird/thrush/starling: - raw mince, hardboiled egg yolk, farex, two drops of multi-vitamin. Raw oxheart may be used instead of mince.
Or: - 1 part hardboiled egg yolk, 2 parts tinned dog or cat food 1 part silverbeet. 2 drops of multi-vitamin.
Some people use baby food that has protein included.
Worms and berries to supplement the diet. As the birds move around, leave worms and grubs for them to find and eat.

2. Finches/sparrows: - a bird rearing formula is available at pet shops for this type of bird also wholemeal bread can be given occasionally.
Or: - mincemeat with hardboiled egg yolk. Every few days add a pinch of bonegrow. Vary diet for all birds. Give fresh grasses and weeds seeds for the birds to eat when they can fly.

3. Rock or feral pigeons/doves: - Pigeon and doves are fed a mixture called pigeon milk from the crop of the parent birds. Sometimes the parents are killed, bird rescue is then asked for a formula for feeding the young. The following may help until the owner can contact a specialist in this field. Complan, farex, ground maize, ground oats, two drops of multivitamins. Mix this with warm water into a slurry and feed birds. Make up as needed and do not overfeed.   As the birds grow, seeds and grain can be left for them to eat on their own.

Do remember that once the chicks can fly they must not be released until they can pick up their own food. Some birds will continue to come back for “top ups” for a week or so.

4.  Ducklings: - Ducklings and the like will need chicken mash, make a slurry in a dish of water with the chicken mash. Use a dish that will take an upturned jam jar in the centre, (preventing the ducklings from jumping in the mixture) this should allow the ducklings 25.4mm (1 inch) of space for feeding around the outside of the jam jar. You will have to dip each ducklings bill into the mixture to get them feeding. A marble placed in the dish will also encourage feeding. As the area is very warm in which the ducklings are kept, you may have to, a) renew the mixture a few times a day or b) top up the mixture with water.

5. Chicken chicks etc: - these chicks require chicken mash and you may add hard boiled egg yolk to begin with. Keep a clean container of water within reach of the chicks, but again insert the jam jar so the chicks do not jump into the water. Live food such as grubs, small worms and hoppers or mealworms; in addition, fresh green food like chickweed and cabbage. As the chicks grow larger, grains may be given and chicken pellets.


Information for this page was provided and written by Rosemary Tully;   rosemarytully@clear.net.nz
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