Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Bird of the month: how to feed birds safely

Posted on 27 October, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our twentieth ‘bird of the month’, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species – except this month! We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, but this month we thought it would be helpful to reflect on another important bird topic: how to safely feed birds.

This special edition of bird of the month article was written by the well-versed Damian Kelly, with photos by the talented Jane Rusden and Damian. 

Feeding birds

If you want people to appreciate the environment, they must be engaged – to see wildlife up close and personal. Research has demonstrated that a lot of people are already engaged and feeding birds. Encouraging this and ensuring good feeding practices are essential.

In the past, it was common advice to not feed birds but just plant a native garden and provide water. However, more recent research has begun to question that. It is not possible to cover the whole topic here, but suffice to say that if you are interested, you should read these books by Professor Daryl Jones, a behavioural ecologist at Griffith University in Queensland:

  • ‘The birds at my table – why we feed wild birds and why it matters’ (Cornell University Press, 2018) 
  • ‘Feeding the birds at your table – a guide for Australia’ (NewSouth, 2019).


The second book provides lots of practical advice, based on science.

The trend to native gardens has encouraged plant nurseries to develop long-flowering species, and this alone can change the mix of birds in gardens. In some areas, such long and intense sources of nectar encourage aggressive species such as Noisy Miners and Red Wattlebirds, which tend to drive away other species. Sometimes there can be unintended consequences of garden changes.

The same can be said if you feed lots of meat, which favours Butcherbirds and Kookaburras – species that are predators of smaller birds. A lot of mincemeat can also lead to disease issues due to a lack of the nutrients needed by birds.

So – if you want to feed the birds then it is best to be informed, and make sure you are providing the best food and plenty of cover, along with clean water for them. You will be rewarded with a variety of birds in your garden to enjoy.

In summary, Daryl Jones recommends:

  • Ensure that the feeding station is cleaned daily and is located out of reach of potential predators such as cats.
  • Provide high-quality food. Do not provide bread, fatty meat, or honey and water mixes. Instead use nectar mixes, good quality seed or meat with a low-fat content.
  • Vary the type of food provided and when it is available. Alternate between nectar mixes and seed for example. Set it out at different times and not every day.
  • Monitor the types of birds using the feeder. If introduced birds are becoming more common or populations that are visiting the feeder are becoming very large, then take a break from feeding for a while and then recommence with a different food type.
  • Provide a birdbath

Birdlife Australia now provides detailed recommendations for feeding birds. A good place to start is the Birds in Backyards website – click here

Red-browed Finch feeding on quality birdseed (photo by Damian Kelly)


A waterlogged Sacred Kingfisher flies off after a good swim in a birdbath (photo by Jane Rusden)


You never know who else might enjoy some water in your garden: Swamp Wallaby has a drink (photo by Jane Rusden)


Damian Kelly

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