SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Food for wild birds

Overall experts tend to agree that it is better not to feed wild birds.

See the reasons in our article here. However, many people do want to feed wild birds and, so if they do, it is important that they provide the birds with food that is appropriate and in a way that has the least risk of causing harm. Here are some ideas on how to do this:

Don’t forget, different kinds of birds eat different types of foods!

You will need to tailor the type of food depending on the species you are feeding:

  • Nectar and fruit are the best foods to offer if you want to attract native species such as silvereye, bellbird, and tui (and also kaka and hihi if they live in your area). However, consider that fruit can also attract introduced species such as blackbird and starling. Sugar-water can be used as a substitute for nectar. To make a sugar solution add one part brown or raw sugar to four or five parts water (e.g. 150–200 g of sugar in a 1 litre container). You can feed fresh fruit (such as apple or pear) or dried fruit (such as raisins or sultanas) but dried fruit should be soaked in water overnight before being offered to birds.
  • Seed generally attracts introduced species such as house sparrow, greenfinch, chaffinch, goldfinch, and dunnock. If you are planning to feed seed to wild birds, it is best to use a “Wild bird seed” or “Wild bird mix” as this contains a mixture of different types of seeds and is likely to attract a wider range of bird species than if you just feed single seed types.
  • Fat attracts silvereye and starling. You can provide ‘fat cakes’ for these birds; these are a mixture of feed and fat that is formed into a cake can be made or bought.

Avoid feeding bread

Although bread is the food most frequently offered to birds in New Zealand it is harmful to them. Bread can cause serious malnutrition as it fills birds up without providing them with the protein, fat, and nutrients that they need. It is also high in carbohydrate and salt which can be harmful to the birds’ health. Bread also tends to attract introduced species rather than native birds. It is best to avoid feeding bread to birds, so feed them one of the other more natural and nutritious options available instead.

Think carefully where you place the food

All foods are best placed somewhere where the birds that are feeding will be safe from cats, dogs, and other predators. You can make a platform or feeding table where you place the food or use a bird feeder. You can buy a bird feeder or even make your own.

Hygiene is important

To avoid the spread of disease between feeding birds and to prevent the growth of mould, which can be harmful to birds, you should keep bird feeding tables or feeders very clean, clear them of any old food daily and wash them every few days with very hot water.

Provide a birdbath

A birdbath can be a valuable source of drinking water for birds as well as a place for birds to bathe. The birdbath should be placed at least 1.5 m off the ground and out in the open so that predators cannot sneak up on the birds in the bath. It is also important to change the water daily and keep the bath clean by washing it regularly.

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