BBC Autumn Watch 2015 – Highlights

All about ground feeding birds – some tips

BBC Autumnwatch – bird feeder experiment

November 6, 2015
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The content below is not original to Garden Wildlife Direct. The original source can be found here on the BBC website (2015). 


Bird Feeder cam

This week, we’ve been running live cameras on a bird feeder to find out what the local birds most like to fill up on.

First experiment

We put out an even percentage of sunflower seeds, oat grain and barley grain to appeal to the local farmland birds. We then sat back, eagerly anticipating yellowhammers, tree sparrows and various finches.


Clockwise from top: An even mix of sunflower seeds, oat grain and barley grain

We soon found, however, that greenfinches totally dominated the feeder table and gobbled down the sunflower seeds. They didn’t touch the other two options.

So we changed it up a bit.

Second experiment

On the live cameras we’d been seeing lots of greenfinches, goldfinches, house sparrows and common garden species such as blue tits, great tits, coal tits and robins. So we decided to put more common garden bird food to the test.

We served up sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts (which is what you get when you crack open a seed) and peanuts.


Clockwise from top: sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, peanuts

We found that greenfinches mainly stuck to eating sunflower seeds even though they were being offered the sunflower hearts which are easier to eat and digest. We think this could be because you don’t find sunflower hearts in the wild so they probably weren’t used to them.

Goldfinches, on the other hand, only ate sunflower hearts. This must be a learned behaviour. They know to go straight for the hearts to get the most energy efficient nutrition fix.

The results

So what did the birds like most overall?

Sunflower seeds were the most popular with 43% being eaten. Then it was sunflower hearts at 38%, and peanuts at 19%.


An edible pie chart providing nutritional and mathematical information

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  1. This is rubbish. Peanuts outperform any other bird food by a million miles. This may be unpopular to the purist but it is true,

  2. We made those (using Apologia science) back in the late semumr. We had lots of birds visiting but the problem came when the birds couldn’t get to the seeds in the bottom of the bottle. Yuck! The girls had a great time making them though and we enjoyed the birds that came to visit. We also made suet and that feeder is emptied all the time. We just put our last frozen suet in so its time to make more!

  3. Sunflower Hearts 99%, peanuts 1%. I have a big bag of peanuts left, as they go rotten in the feeders – the birds are totally uninterested. Mixed seed just got thrown on the floor, where it sprouted. Same with the niger seed that goldfinches aer supposed to love. Sunflower SEEDS were eaten, but many were taken and buried for later – sprouting all over the garden and pots. I feed in the front and back gardens, and typically a full 4 port seed feeder, PLUS a half full lantern feeder, is eaten in each every day.
    Robins and chaffinches have both learned to eat from the feeders. Of the small birds only the dunnocks still eat on the ground.
    We get Goldfinches, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Great TIt, Blue Tit, COal TIt, Robin, Bullfinch, Dunnock. Occasionally Wren, Siskin, Nuthatch. Wood Pigeons and collared doves hoover up the fallen seed, aided by blackbirds – Goldfinches are damned messy eaters. They ALL eat Sunflower Hearts. Even the badger likes the fallen sunflower hearts!
    ANything else is ignored or thrown on the ground with only a tiny proportion of the seeds eaten.
    Fat balls are eaten but at certain times of the year ignored. They attract the starlings and crows.
    The local sparrowhawk is happy. Sadly, so too are the cats which now even ignore the ultrasonics – though that sound does prevent them from leaving their calling cards.

    1. Hi, thanks for telling us your bird feeding habits. I guess what you say tells us a lot of about feeding habits at specific times of the year, and also of course dependent on which birds visit your garden.

      Thanks for sharing.