For the birds we attract to our gardens, early spring is a time where natural food can be hard to find – particularly if there’s a cold snap. Cold weather will keep worms well below the ground’s surface, insects may still be hibernating or may not be active enough to be easily found, and the previous year’s fruit and seed will have long been eaten. While there will be buds and shoots which some garden birds will eat, not all will.
Despite this, several garden bird species have already nested and laid eggs once into March – notably blackbirds and robins. This can lead to more competition for available food, because birds of the same species which have come from mainland northern Europe to winter here may well still be in your garden. You could have a female blackbird on eggs in your garden at the very same time as another blackbird from Finland which has yet to make its journey home to breed!
It's therefore more important than ever to ensure that the right foods are available and in the right feeders - and in the case of the ground feeding species, such as blackbirds and robins, that means a bird table or ground feeding tray. Robins and blackbirds are both ‘softbills’ which means that they can't remove husks from seed. Their ideal foods are sunflower hearts, husk-free mixes such as Vine House Farm’s ‘Won’t Grow Mix’ and suet pellets. Mealworms are even better, as once the chicks have hatched in the nest this food provides not only protein but all-important moisture.
Other common birds such as blue tit delay their breeding cycle and won’t be on eggs until well into April. This means that when their young are hatched, caterpillars – the principle food that adult blue tits feed to their young – will be emerging. However, unless you are in an area that is rich in native trees, supplies of caterpillar are likely to be hard for blue tits and great tits to find. Live mealworms are the perfect solution and most species of tit will readily take them back to the nest, and take their own share to eat and keep energy levels up.