Feed the birds, not your bin!

Filed in Blog by on January 11, 2010 23 Comments
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A robin turns up at Chez Green for some breakfast

A robin turns up at Chez Green for some breakfast

The question on everyone’s lips at the moment is “HOW do you keep things out of the landfill? How do you achieve zero waste?”

According to WRAP, the average household in the UK makes up one fifth of their landfill waste with food! There are several ways to reduce food waste ending including better portion control, avoiding 3 for 2 offers on perishable items, menu planning and using today’s leftovers as tomorrow’s ingredients. Check out the Love Food Hate Waste campaign and our own page on reducing food waste for other suggestions.

However, along with the big changes, the message of our site is that lots of small changes can collectively have a big impact!

Take plate scrapings and the end of bags and packets of food for example. I wonder how much food we throw away simply by not emptying bags properly or mindlessly scraping our plates into the bin.

We’ve been enjoying a few inches of snow this winter and the birds have been desperate for food. In fact the RSPB have put out warnings that we should all be helping the birds this winter and have said that recent weather conditions are pushing Britain’s wildlife to the brink of a crisis. Indeed we found a dead thrush in the snow last week, which was so sad. But we’re focusing on the amount of birds we are helping daily by sharing our food scraps. It’s amazing how much of your ‘food waste’ can help feed our feathered friends. Rather than throw it in the bin, check the list below and see if you can divert some of your food from landfill to feeding the birds!

Lard and raw beef suet – shake out the end of the bag or use up the last scrapings in the pack

Tinned Cat and dog food – scrape out the tin or the cat dish

Soaked dog biscuits – shake out the dust from the bottom of the bag, moisten with water and feed to your feathered friends

Cheese – grate the end of a block of cheese and add it to the bird table

Coconut shells – once you’ve taken all you want, hang the shell outside

Dry breakfast cereal including uncooked porrage oats – empty out the dusty dregs

Cooked rice – scrape off your plate and share around

Bacon rind – if you don’t eat it yourself, the birds will thank you!

Dried fruit such as raisins, sultanas and currants and fresh fruit – if you cut out a bruised piece of fruit, it will be appreciated outside

Cake, biscuit and bread crumbs – if it’s seeded, so much the better

Potatoes – birds love them! Share your cold jacket potatoes, roast or mash with them

Pastry crumbs cooked or uncooked – don’t put them in the bin, put them on the bird table

Any other ideas for keeping the birds happy this winter while reducing your own food waste? Share them in the comments below!


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (23)

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  1. Hazel says:

    Birds love leftover porridge too. Love the dog food packet idea.

  2. Paul Watts says:

    I’ve been putting out our small amounts of leftovers for our garden birds for years now and can’t believe the amount of life-saving ‘bird-food’ that others simply throw into the land-fill bin. If we all only scraped our plates into a bag or container and put them outside during the day for our beloved feathered friends we would not only save thousands of bird lives but we would collectively reduce our land-fill contribution very significantly.

    Once your garden birds get to know there’s a reliable source of food in your garden they will arrive daily and you’ll be amazed at how quickly it all disappears, especially this time of year, so there’s never any risk of attracting vermin and it’s just so rewarding to see dozens of birds enjoying their daily feast. I recorded no less than 12 different species in just one hour the other day in our medium-sized garden covered in snow!

  3. Arlene Harris says:

    Leftover meat carcasses will be greatly appreciated by the crow family. Keep it off the ground to discourage unwanted rats.

  4. Jean Blanchard says:

    The news is that people seem to have been stockpiling food during this cold snap and that supermarket shelves are empty. I wonder what percentage of this stockpiling will end up as landfill as ‘use by’ dates come and go on meat, dairy and vegetables: you can only eat so much in a given period of time unless all this food is being cooked and/or frozen. Thanks for a brilliant site.

  5. Derek says:

    I had no idea that the birds would enjoy these – the birds around my house tend to scavenge in the compost pile, so I guess I’m already feeding them some of these items. Thanks for the info!

  6. I make homemade bread instead of buying store bought bread. Any crumbs or left over butts of bread are chopped up and put out in our many bird feeders in our yard. Not only do the birds love this but the squirrels love it too. Our fence is called squirrel highway because its the neighborhood squirrels way to get around the yards. Every single squirrel that runs along our fence will check to see if there is any bread crumbs. I put it in a location so my girls can see from the window.

  7. We have around 18 apple trees in the garden and nature does a fine job of leaving apples around all winter for the birds to feast on πŸ™‚ However our neighbour was raking his up and putting them in the bin at the end of autumn!!

    Our bruised/half eaten/old/diseased apples are providing lots of sustenance for lots of birds and I think they will last til spring!


  8. H0gg1t says:

    All 3 of us here are ardent bird fans, so have been feeding them for many a year.

    They receive uneaten crusts from lunchboxes, left over bread, biscuit barrel crumbs and my special “cake”. This consists of veg shortening (Trex/Pura) heated to melting point and mixed with bread/biscuit/cracker crumbs, along with any out of date dried fruit/nuts/seeds and propriety bird food. This is then poured into well used non recycleable tubs to solidify, then put onto the bird table.

    Please note that at this time of year, birds desperately need a supply of clean water, not only to drink, but to bathe in to maintain their feathers. Bird baths need to be topped up each day.

  9. Janet says:

    The local green grocer gives us his unsellable fruit, and veg. for our compost heap. But any crates of apples and pears which he has given me lately have gone on to the lawn for the birds, and I have the pleasure of watching them feed. A win, win situation alround

  10. Mrs Green says:

    @Hazel: Hi Hazel; I read that porrage was a bad thing as it can set around their beaks and they starve to death….. Not sure how true this is.

    @Paul Watts: Hi Paul, welcome to the site and what a fabulous comment – thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and thoughts with us. We’ve had our first grey wagtail this winter. We also get the pied ones, but this is a first for the grey wagtails and we’ve had a song thrush too – she is lovely πŸ™‚

    @Arlene Harris: Hi Arlene; interesting idea – we prefer not to entice rooks and magpies in as they frighten off the small birds. Does the entire carcass disappear? We have foxes here and I know they would come into the garden and take them.

    @Jean Blanchard: Hi Jean, welcome to my zero waste! Mr Green and I were talking about this exact thing over the weekend. We were able to get to our co-op but there wasn’t a vegetable in sight. I was really annoyed because I had a broccoli craving! I don’t mind if people took it and enjoyed it, but like you, I bet there was a lot of food waste and I wouldn’t have even wasted the stalks!!

    @Derek: Hi Derek; great to see you – thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Funny about the birds helping themselves to your compost; that’s one cleaner way to do it I guess!

    @surviving and thriving on pennies: Ahhh, we have squirrels too. LMG believes in reincarnation and is sure that one of them is our cat in her next life πŸ˜€

    @Becky Graceson: Becky I’m already envious of your lovely fruit trees. I would love a mini orchard.

    @H0gg1t: Your ‘cake’ sounds great – I bet the birds really appreciate it.

    @Janet: Hi Janet, how fab your green grocer puts his scraps to good use. It helps keep food out of the landfill and feeds the birds too – perfect!

  11. LJayne says:

    I need to think more about this. I never knew birds like bread, we make home-made and there are always the end bits although DH is a good hoover! I don’t mind feeding the squirrels as long as the birds get their fair share – we are low on squirrels this year actually for some reason.

    But we do have rats at the bottom of the garden. Our neighbours have been in their house over 40 years and say they’ve always been there – we back onto some garages. So I do have to be careful.

  12. Poppy says:


    If you are putting out bread, make sure you soak it first. This stops them gorging on something that will swell up in their little tums and dehydrate them and/or stop them from eating something more nutritional.

  13. John Costigane says:

    As well as the usual meat rinds, I have ground peanuts, Lidls tinned, for the robins and put nearer the house to discourage bigger birds. This worked for a few days but jackdaws and sparrows have jumped in to blow my scheme.

    Sorry to see the dead thrush. In such a cold spell food, and water, can be a great help.

  14. Arlene Harris says:

    @John Costigane: Oh no! Poor little house sparrows! Their numbers are dwindling rapidly due to lack of breeding sites and need a bit of help (though I can see if you have large numbers it would be a nuisance). We are lucky – from a zero sparrow population we now have a group of 7 or 8 that live and nest in the garden. And very resourceful they are too: during the spring they come in through our letter box for mealworms left inside. They learnt that from the robin. “Bird brain” is a compliment!

    But I digress – many thanks for a great site and a good kick up the bum to begin 2010. I thought I was strict on the whole re-cycling thing until I read about the ‘zero’ waste. I’m now on a mission and quite excited about it!

    And spare a thought for older people in this harsh weather – those ‘left-overs’ could make someone a hearty meal just for the re-heating.

    Ttfn :o)

  15. John Costigane says:

    @Arlene Harris: I meant to say starlings which are in no danger, moving about in groups of 10+. Sparrows are indeed another matter only seen in ones and twos locally. A garden nest is a fine way to help them in their harsher existence nowadays.

  16. Sandie says:

    My Mum’s local butcher will give away scraggy bits of suet, which can be boiled to liquid in the microwave and added with stale crusts, cake, old breakfast cerials etc to make bird cake.

  17. H0gg1t says:

    @John Costigane: Sorry to correct you, John; but Starlings, along with House Sparrows, have been on the “Red” (endangered) list of the British Trust for Ornithology for a couple of years. Until about 10 years ago, Starlings, in roosts numbering thousands, even in town centres, were a common sight, unfortunately not so recently.

    As my son, our keen birdwatcher in the family, will not even allow me to net off our birdtable to stop the larger birds, mainlyferal pigeons, from eating the majority of the food, to enable the smaller species a bit of a chance, as he states that they are ALL birds and therefore have a right to be fed!

  18. Arlene Harris says:

    @H0gg1t: This is a difficult one if we begin discussing it in-depth. Should we be selective? Should we exclude the Starlings or the Magpies? By feeding our feathered friends at all we are interfering with nature. But then we interfere when we chop down a tree; or a hedgerow; or even pull up nettles which provide a home for the butterflies – that provide food for the caterpillars – to feed the blue tits. Whilst I’m pondering, I shall provide food to whatever comes, knowing that the 2 year old female blackbird in my garden wouldn’t have survived had I not fed her with mealworms as a fledgling and also happy in the knowledge that when the cold spell has passed, she is quite capable of foraging for herself again. I see it is a sort of symbiosis: Living together for the mutual benefit.

    Ttfn :o)

  19. John Costigane says:

    @H0gg1t: No problem, everyone’s views are valid and my knowledge is purely garden based. My focus is on Zero Waste and food waste for birds helps with waste reduction, until AD becomes fully established. Extra food, like peanuts, help birds through the winter with robins longterm visitors.

    Feeding smaller birds is a challenge. One idea, from a relative, is feeder boxes with narrow ledges. These deter larger birds when attached to a garden clothes line. Seeds are the standard filler and regular additions are necessary. I hope this helps.

  20. Arlene Harris says:

    Zero-Waste feeders for small birds: an old tree branch makes a good feeder. You basically drill holes into it about 2 cms wide here and there all round. Drill a small hole straight through near one end to thread wire or string to hang it up. Stuff the holes with all your home made ‘zero waste’ fat cake and hey presto: 1 home-made bird feeder which is loved by all the tit family.

    Ttfn :o)

  21. Mrs Green says:

    @Arlene Harris: Hi Arlene, thanks for your comment; I’m glad you are feeling excited and inspired to reduce your waste further – we’re always here to cheer you on. Good idea about taking care of neighbours too – we’ve been watching out for ours and collecting medication and food for her πŸ™‚ Thanks for the bird feeder idea πŸ™‚

    @Sandie: Thanks Sandie; I’ll ask my butcher about this when I’m next in there πŸ™‚

    @H0gg1t: well I’m pleased to say that we have heaps of sparrows and a few starlings as regular visitors to our garden. We saw a redwing this week too which was lovely. I’d never seen one before πŸ™‚

    @Johncostigane: I find the robins will see anyone off – they are the most aggressive of the birds in my garden! It’s lovely to see the thrush and sparrows eating happily together …. Funny how they respond so differently.

  22. John Costigane says:

    @Mrs Green: Robins are full of energy compared to some others and probably compete better. I rarely see such competition but pecking order activity, among rooks and jackdaws, is very common. Because of this I tend to put out a lot and leave for a week except for the coldest periods when more food is required.

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