Should You Feed Wild Birds in Your Garden?

Feeding garden birds is a simple way to bring nature into your backyard, but it is important to understand the risks of inviting these feathered creatures into your home.

Aug 22, 2023By Lisa Szymanski
should you feed wild birds in your garden

Attracting wild birds to your garden is a wonderful way to bring the sounds of nature and pollinators into the yard. Sparrows, doves, and robins are a few of the most common garden-dwelling birds. The question is whether it is helpful to provide these feathered visitors with food. Factors such as feeding invasive bird species and the spread of avian diseases must be considered to prevent harming pets and indigenous animals. In this guide, we look at the benefits and risks of feeding wild birds in your garden.

Is It Good to Feed Wild Birds?

willow tit searching for food in the snow
A willow tit picks at seeds in the snow.

The problem with feeding wild birds is that it may affect the survival of indigenous birds by encouraging invasive species. The decline of the UK’s native bird, the willow tit, is a good example of how local birds are impacted by garden feeding. Researchers suspect that giving wild birds food allows invasive and stronger species to take over feeders and nesting sites in local areas. This leaves vulnerable birds, such as the willow tit, with limited access to nesting spots. Giving food to local birds is seen as helpful, but many people could unintentionally support invasive avian populations. To sustain native birds, incorporate a variety of food, hang more than one feeder, and add plants or trees to serve as shelter.

What are the Best Feeding Stations for Wild Birds?

sparrow sitting on a wooden bird feeder
A single sparrow sits on a wooden bird feeder.

Feeding stations provide easy access to seeds and nuts for animals such as birds and squirrels, but they get soiled quickly. Bird droppings settle on the trays of birdhouses and feeders, creating a haven for bacteria and parasites. Wild birds may carry viruses such as avian flu and easily spread this disease to pet birds and fowl, such as chickens and ducks. When domestic birds eat food that is contaminated or come into contact with infected droppings, they become ill. To prevent exposing your birds or pets to diseases and organisms that garden birds carry, keep feeders clean and out of reach of domestic animals. The best feeding stations have small perches so birds can access the food without droppings accumulating inside the feeder.

How to Help Wild Birds in the Garden

green hummingbird feeding on a pink flower
A hummingbird visits a flower.

The best way to help your feathered friends is to grow their natural food sources in your garden or yard. Start by looking at the birds that visit the area and include the types of plants and flowers that they are attracted to. Hummingbirds are a real treat to watch as they zip around the garden and chirp all day long. You can attract these tiny birds by planting the flowers they love to feed on, from fuchsias and hibiscus to petunias. Finches will regularly visit sunflowers and zinnias, while robins prefer berries, including grapes. By adding these beautiful blooms, you’ll attract bees to the garden too!

Should Garden Birds Be Fed in Winter?

blue bird flying toward snow covered garden feeder in winter
Blue birds eating seeds in winter.

Many backyard birds struggle in the winter as their regular food sources are difficult to find, so you can certainly help them by providing a daily meal. Some bird species, including house sparrows, have managed to rebuild their populations owing to the availability of garden feed during the cold season. A great way to look after feathered visitors is to introduce a variety of foods to meet their nutritional needs. Sunflower seeds are favored by finches, while blue jays find nuts irresistible. Suet blocks are an excellent winter food because they consist of healthy fats and seeds that birds use for energy when it’s cold. An alternative to feeders is growing winter flowers and fruit trees such as crab apples, winterberry, and holly as year-round food sources.

What to Feed Garden Birds?

green bird white eye eating an apple in a garden
A beautiful green bird eats a sliced apple.

Most wild birds will be happy to feast on seeds, but fruits, including berries and apples, are tasty treats for robins, finches, and pigeons. You can feed garden birds bruised and expired fruit along with cooked rice and potatoes to prevent waste. Staple foods are insects and seeds, so if you want to cater to the needs of different bird species, include millet, sunflower seeds, and mealworms. Add a shallow dish or a bird bath with fresh water, and you’ll delight in the influx of beautiful birds drinking and bathing while enjoying their food.


goldfinch sitting on a bird feeder
A bird feeder hanging from a tree.

There is no doubt that a garden filled with the sights and sounds of wild birds can make you feel connected to nature. To help native birds thrive in your area, you can plant flowers and shrubs that provide natural food sources in addition to hanging feeders. Not only does this give them food throughout the year, but it also attracts different species to the garden. Always hang feeders out of the reach of pets, and keep these stations clean to prevent exposing animals to droppings. Clean feeders, along with a mixture of seeds and fruit, will make for happy and healthy wild birds in your garden.

Lisa Szymanski
By Lisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the "queens of the yard," Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.