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Best bird feeder 2021: Affordable bird feeding stations for gardens and patios

Sarah Matthews
8 Jul 2021
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Turn your home into a songbird cafe with our pick of the best bird feeders for gardens and patios

Watching wild birds from the window is a pastime that brings joy to millions every day. The best bird feeders will encourage these feathered visitors to your garden or patio on a regular basis. Thrilling as it is for us budding ornithologists to admire them from the comfort of our homes, the birds benefit even more. Research by the British Ornithologists’ Union suggests that the food we Brits put out in our bird feeding stations could support as many as 195 million garden birds.

Of course, birds forage their food from a number of sources in the wild. But, as the British Trust for Ornithology points out, the food provided by bird feeding stations is an excellent supplement to birds’ diets, keeping them well provisioned and healthy, and offering plenty of dietary variety. During harsh winters, when food is scarce, feeding stations may even help save smaller birds from starving to death.

In this article, we’ll help you choose the perfect bird feeder to place in your garden, patio or even on your window, with options to suit every budget. First, though, we’ve got a quick buying guide Q&A to help you decide what kind of feeder to buy, where it put it and what to fill it with.

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Best bird feeders: At a glance

  • Best seed feeder: Gardman Heavy Duty Seed Feeder | Buy now
  • Best budget window feeder: RSPB Window Bird Feeder | Buy now
  • Best nut feeder: National Trust Apollo Feeder | Buy now
  • Best ground feeder: Gardman Wooden Ground Tray | Buy now

How to choose the best bird feeder for you

What are the main types of bird feeder?

Seed feeder: Filled with either sunflower seed or a seed mix, these feeders will attract a range of birds including tits, siskins and greenfinches. Cylindrical and transparent, they are mounted on hooks and feature portholes that dispense seeds to small birds that are able to land on the feeder. Avoid buying one with plastic portholes or a plastic lid – squirrels will wreck these in no time.

Nut feeder: Like seed feeders, nut feeders are also tubular but use a steel mesh to dispense the food. Birds can perch on the feeder and eat small pieces of peanut through the mesh, which needs to be large enough to avoid trapped beaks but small enough to stop birds from pulling out large pieces. Never use salted or dry roasted peanuts and always buy your peanuts from a reputable supplier to eliminate the risk of aflatoxin, a natural toxin that can kill birds.

Suet feeder: Suet feeders come in box or tube shapes and, like nut feeders, they use a steel mesh that provides access to the suet balls or cakes within. These balls and cakes are often sold encased in a plastic net which you must remove before you place the suet into the feeder. Otherwise, birds could trap their beaks or feet inside the net and suffer serious injuries.

Window feeder: These box-shaped feeders are attached to glass using strong suction cups and are transparent on all sides. That way, the birds can see what’s inside the feeder and bird watchers can enjoy watching them feed through the window. Window feeders can hold a mixture of foods and are best for smaller birds.

Ground feeder: As the name suggests, these feeding stations are placed on the ground or elevated just above it. They generally have an open tray or trough that holds a wide variety and volume of feed. Though versatile and easy to clean, they present an easier target for squirrels and birds such as crows and pigeons that you may not wish to feed.

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Where do I put a bird feeder?

If possible, you should place bird feeders in a number of locations and at a variety of heights throughout your garden. Some birds prefer to feed higher up, where they have a better vantage point, while others like to forage directly from the ground. Your options are obviously more limited if you’re setting up feeders on your patio.

Birds need cover, especially smaller birds, so if your feeders are close to bushes and hedgerows then you’ll tempt more of them to stop by in your garden for a snack. A birdbath filled with fresh drinking water is another great way to encourage birds to visit your garden on a regular basis.

One more note: if you have a pet cat roaming the garden, birds are less likely to feed there. Safety is paramount for birds – when there’s a dangerous predator on the loose, they will find food elsewhere.

Can I use bird feeders in an urban area?

Towns and cities may not have the same number or diversity of birds as the countryside, but there are still plenty of them and they need feeding. If you don’t have access to a garden, put your feeder out on the patio. And if you have no patio? Get a window feeder instead. These settings are great because cats and squirrels are less likely to make an appearance. Most bird species look for food at specific heights, however, so if your balcony or window is several floors up then you might not have much luck.

How much should I spend on a bird feeder?

Basic but effective bird feeding stations can cost as little as £10 online, and we’ve found several budget options that we’re happy to recommend. Remember to check out the features and materials before buying any bird feeder; seed feeders with plastic portholes and lids are to be avoided, as are nut and suet feeders that don’t use a steel mesh. To stop pigeons, crows and squirrels from stealing too much food you’ll need to pay a little extra for a feeder that’s guarded by a metal cage only smaller birds can fit through.

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The best bird feeders to buy in 2021

1. Gardman Heavy Duty Seed Feeder: The best-value large seed feeder

Price: £15 | Buy now from Amazon

This Gardman seed feeder is the perfect entry-level model for anyone looking to draw songbirds to their garden. Holding up to 600g of seeds inside a transparent tube, it has four perches and four portholes, allowing multiple birds to feed at once. Crucially, the portholes, perches, lid and base are all made from polished diecast aluminium, meaning squirrels won’t be able to damage them.

There’s no cage guard on the Heavy Duty Seed Feeder so squirrels could still attempt to jump aboard and steal some seeds, but the sturdy aluminium will prevent them from breaking into it as would inevitably happen with an all-plastic feeder. The metal loop makes this feeder ideal for hanging from a branch or hook in your garden. Gardman recommends you place it no more than two metres away from cover, such as trees or dense bushes, so that birds can retreat to safety between mouthfuls.

Key Specs – Food types: Seeds; Materials: Aluminium, plastic; Mounting type: Hanging


2. RSPB Window Bird Feeder: The best budget window feeder

Price: £11 | Buy now from RSPB

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds knows a thing or two about feeding birds, so you can be sure that this budget-friendly Window Bird Feeder will work a treat. Constructed from durable, non-yellowing polycarbonate and held in place by three strong suction cups, this transparent feeder lets you enjoy the view as birds stop by to nibble on seeds, suet pieces and mealworms.

While the suction cups keep the feeder secure, the inner tray can be removed with ease, so it’s quick and painless to clean and refill. The small opening is the perfect size for birds such as robins and tits to fit inside and nibble away in safety, but some reviewers have pointed out that larger birds may try to crash the party, resulting in the feeder being damaged or falling off the window. Reviews are overwhelmingly positive, however, and you won’t find anything better for the price.

Key Specs – Food types: Seeds, mealworms, suet nibbles; Materials: Polycarbonate; Mounting type: Window suction cups


3. RSPB Suet Feeder and Guardian: The best squirrel-proof suet feeder

Price: £24 | Buy now from RSPB

Little birds love their suet, especially in winter, when calorie-dense food is essential for their survival. Unfortunately, big birds and squirrels like it too. That’s where this Suet Feeder and Guardian from the RSPB comes in. The cylindrical food holder is surrounded by a cage guard that allows only small birds through its gaps, keeping unwanted pests at bay. And thanks to the sturdy steel wire construction, even the most determined adult squirrel won’t be able to break the bars apart.

Be aware that, while this feeder goes some way to stopping food thieves, it can’t stop them all. Smaller corvids such as magpies might still be able to fit their beaks through the gaps, and the juvenile squirrels seen in the summer could potentially squeeze in, too. The RSPB recommends placing this feeder roughly two metres from any jumping platform so squirrels can’t reach it.

Key Specs –Food types: Suet balls, bird cake; Materials: Powder-coated steel wire; Mounting type: Hanging

Buy now from RPSB


4. National Trust Apollo Feeder: The best basic nut feeder

Price: £20 | Buy now from Birdfood.co.uk

The National Trust’s Apollo Feeder is an affordable, reliable peanut feeding station for small birds that’s suitable for hanging in any garden or patio. Its galvanised wire mesh is robust enough to resist damage from pesky squirrels, and the gaps are the perfect size for little birds’ beaks, allowing them to take modest chunks out of the nuts.

There is a downside to the size of the wire mesh, though. Because the birds can’t pull out big chunks of the peanut each time, the food extraction process can get messy, resulting in peanut crumbs piling up on the ground below. These are then hoovered up by bigger birds. On the bright side, the Apollo Feeder’s lack of perches prohibits larger birds, such as corvids, from landing on it and scaring off the local robins, finches and tits.

Key Specs – Food types: Peanuts; Materials: Galvanised metal; Mounting type: Hanging

Buy now from Birdfood.co.uk


5. Gardman Wooden Ground Feeder Tray: The best budget ground feeder for birds

Price: £18 | Buy now from Amazon

Ground feeders like this model from Gardman are so easy to set up and clean that there’s no excuse for not having one. Simply place it near to some cover, fill it with feed and watch those hungry birds flock. This is one of the more affordable options out there but the timber is of good quality and the metal micro mesh is fine enough to stop chunks of food falling through onto the ground beneath.

Large feeder trays will bring in smaller birds but they are also an open invitation for bigger bird bullies (such as crows) to visit your garden. Then again, most of the other feeders on this list are too small for medium-sized birds such as blackbirds to land and feed on. If you want to cater to a wide variety of species, the Gardman Ground Feeder Tray is a solid and affordable choice.

Key Specs – Food types: Seeds, peanuts, mealworms, suet nibbles; Materials: Wood, metal micromesh; Mounting type: No mount


6. Roam Wild Arch Window Bird Feeder: The best dual-seed window feeder

Price: £45 | Buy now from Amazon

It may be a pricier option yet this dual-seed feeder from Roam Wild earns its expensive price tag for its large two-litre (or 2kg) capacity and ease of use. There are eight perches for many birds to feed together, as well as window protectors and weatherproofing to make sure that the seeds stay fresh and dry longer.

This Roam Wild feeder sticks to your window by using powerful suction cups, with a valve switch to stick them to the window, so it is unlikely to be blown about by the British weather. The wooden lid is on a hinge that can be locked with a durable plastic connector; simply lift it up, fill it with seeds or any other kind of bird feed, and watch the birds in peace.

Key Specs – Food types: Seeds, crushed nuts, suet nibbles; Materials: Polycarbonate, wood; Mounting type: Window suction cups


7. Rosewood Feeding Time Classic Butterfly: The best decorative seed feeder

Price: £10 | Buy now from VioVet

At first glance, this eye-catching Rosewood feeder seems to be all about aesthetics. With its lantern-style, design butterfly-adorned design it’s sure to fit right into any garden. Upon closer inspection, however, you will find a classy and bespoke item that does the job without breaking the bank. As well as looking stylish, it’s expectedly practical too, with the cage layers engineered in such a way to keep out unwelcome visitors, such as squirrels, from stealing seeds.

With the gaps as small as they are, however, certain larger avian varieties may struggle to access the feed, so keep that in mind when hanging this up outside if there’s a particular breed of feathered friends you’re hoping to attract. There is a silver lining to this variable though, in that nuisance birds, such as pigeons, are unlikely to feast themselves at your expense or cause damage to the feeder.

Key Specs – Food types: Seeds; Materials: Steel; Mounting type: Hanging


8. National Trust Geneva feeding house: Best birdhouse feeder

Price: £30 | Buy now from Birdfood.co.uk

This adorable wooden feeder from the National Trust has been designed to look just like a classic birdhouse and can be dangled with ease from any hook or branch in your garden. It’s easy to refill too, holding up to kilo of seeds, and equally easy to clean. What’s more, if you feel like a change, then you can remove the plastic screens and use the Geneva as a birdhouse or decoration.

With some tray feeders, there’s a risk of food getting soggy in the rain and blocking up the feeder. Thankfully, the Geneva’s generous roof overlap ensures the food stays as dry as possible. Bear in mind that tray feeders allow bigger birds and squirrels to have a snack as well, so if you’re not keen on other visitors then a cylindrical mesh feeder might be a better option.

Key Specs - Food types: Seeds; Materials: FSC® certified wood, plastic; Mounting type: Hanging

Buy now from Birdfood.co.uk


9. Garden Selections Seed, Nut and Fatball Feeder: Best all-in-one feeder

Price: £21 | Buy now from Not on the High Street

Birds can be as picky as humans when it comes to food, so if you can’t decide which type to get, this ingenious feeder allows you to serve up all three food types at once. The top part of the feeder unscrews, leaving you with three cylinders to fill with seeds, suet, and nuts. Once you’re done, just screw the top back on and hang it outside. With luck, you’ll have scores of hungry little visitors in no time.

In aesthetic terms, the coppery look of this feeder should fit in well with any garden. If you’re worried about this slightly bigger all-in-one feeder blocking your view of the birds, worry not! The feeder still has a reasonably slim profile and rotates around with the wind, so you can see just as much as you would be able to with a standard cylindrical feeder.

Key Specs - Food type: Seed, nut, and suet; Materials: Painted metal; Mounting type: Hanging


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