Friday, 18 January 2013

RSPB TABLE MIX EXTRA trial results

Reviewing products is new to me, but as this one comes down to spending money from the household budget versus garden birds getting extra food from feeders in our gardens to survive a cold night in winter… I have taken on this task seriously! Okay… I had fun too ;-)



My first thoughts went to… Did this product do what it said on the packaging? The RSPB TABLE MIX EXTRA claimed that Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Sparrows, Doves etc would eat it. I would say that it did :-)

My usual suspects, in garden bird terms, don’t include the shy Song Thrushes - they are more in the category of occasionally seen garden visitor. Doves? Well, Collared Doves have periods when they visit but Doves can’t really be included in the usual suspect list either. However, putting out a new food source can attract new visitors to the garden and that that’s what attracted me to accepting the bag of seed from the kind peeps at RSPB headquarters in Sandy, Bedfordshire.

Taking one look in this mixed seed bag I instantly knew who my first customer would be. I was right too… Coal tits, in my garden, can’t resist black sunflower hearts! A mixed bag, in weather terms, was likely at the end of November/beginning of December in my Scottish garden too. That predication also came true too and was excellent for both my trial and birds that had flocked to my garden due to the freezing temperatures.

Let’s take a look at the mixed seed fest in action through a few small video clips. Remember you can select a clearer HD quality through the ‘gear’ symbol at the bottom RHS of the video. You’ll see the difference on the title text and then know you have it for the clips. We start with a sleet/snow shower and lots of Chaffinches which are the top bird in Scottish Gardens. Note the dissatisfied customer at the very end of the video… it enjoyed a drink though ;-)




Drinking water is also necessary for garden birds especially during winter when puddles, pools and ponds freeze over. I always wondered if visiting grey squirrels would drink from my pond and the video above shows they do – that was a garden first. Oh my… I wonder if there is the tiniest chance that a red squirrel would be thirsty enough to search gardens for water (she sighs).

This is the first year that I have had a pond pump running in my small, rock pool garden pond. You could say this is a trial too. Will my pond pump keep running during the very cold temperatures and can such a small waterfall trickle keep going? If so, just who will find this water source… my very own window Winterwatch and (lol) the cameras will be there catching all the action ;-)

Ah… (I hear you) but this is a mixed bird seed trial post? Yes, it is but when it comes to bird food sources in a garden, my thoughts are, location is key to its success. Positioning a new bird food that claims to attract Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Sparrows just cried out to be on the ground and there could be no better place to start than beside running water. My theory worked too as you'll have seen from my video.




I began my mixed seed trial with a small mesh ground feeder that I bought for feeding hedgehogs which the birds are used to. There was another nearby that continued to have sunflower hearts so I could observe what the birds would do with choice.

The Coal tits instantly took ownership of this feeder with such speedy trips back and forth by numerous individuals that no other birds had a look in. Blackbirds then began investigating when I stopped the supply of sunflower hearts in the other tray and the Coal tits had removed all the black sunflower hearts. The Coal tits were probably caching the hearts somewhere to come back to and eating only the occasional one at the time.

Blackbirds now squabbled over the seed mix - scattering it as they do at the same time. Robins began investigating the mix. The weather changed and snow came next. Expecting considerably more interest in the ground feeding tray, the small mess feeder was replaced by a larger ground feeding bird table that was previously located below hanging seed feeders of sunflower hearts to catch fallen seed. The video above shows that the bigger the area of seed available, the more birds will feed from it with many birds catching the spill.




The image above (not taken during my trial or this morning) gives a bigger window view and illustrates the locations of other feeders and choices the birds had when I ran my mixed seed trial. The large ground tray can be seen back at its location under 3x hanging peanut feeders and 1x sunflower heart feeder.

There was a fat cake feeder (enjoyed by a now regular female Great Spotted Woodpecker) and to the left a log tied to a pine tree with a trench cut out for peanut butter. I continued to put this food out as I thought it was important to show that a mix of feeders and foods brings in a mix of birds. I wanted to see how many species would feed from the table mix I was trialling given the numbers that visited my garden and that these birds had choices already.

There is a standard bird table on the right and a low one front, right too. For the first few days of my trial I continued to put sunflower hearts at these tables to observe any changes. Nothing changed. I then offered the table seed mix to all tables and you could go dizzy watching the Coal tits!

Chaffinches, Siskins, House sparrows, Blue tits, Great tits, Robins, Blackbirds, Woodpigeons and Dunnocks were all seen visiting the main standard table. The mix started to go down. The lower table is always quieter (except for Coal tits) but saw plenty of interest too. This tells me that if you could only afford to put out one seed for the birds on your table then this RSPB Table Mix Extra would feed a good mix of birds.

That being said, I would tempted to suggest that adding one hanging peanut feeder (wire mesh) would help make your seed mix last longer and leave more for the Blackbirds, Robins etc. Feeding at peanut feeders in my garden I see Blue tits, Coal tits, Great tits, Long tailed tits (in winter), Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Siskins, Goldfinches and House Sparrows. That's my tip for garden visitors during next weekend's RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and if you get food out this weekend the birds should find it in time for your count. Lol... no I don't work for the RSPB ;-)




Okay… now to the practical side of my mixed seed trial and this will be of more interest to those already feeding birds. I have used mixed seed in the past but prior to using this mix I was only using sunflower hearts and peanuts and there has been a reason for this. I don’t like the mess that can come with mixed seed mixes and I don’t like being left with the small round seed that the birds seem fussy about.

On the positive, when my trial table seed mix got frosted on my large ground table the small round seed (red & white millet and canary seed in this case) was chosen as it broke away from the iced mass more easily and the birds could feed. Blackbirds, Robins and Woodpigeons were seen taking the small seed.

However, during non-frosty, windy days (which we got too) the small seed blew off the tray easily and further when the birds were selecting favourite bites. I was getting the mess I didn’t like. On the positive there, when we got snow and heavy rainfall (which we also got) more birds came to feed as was seen at the start of my video. This made the mess a little more bearable as it was fun to watch the feeding frenzy.

I should make it clear, that this seed mix I was trialling was being sold as a table mix and if used on a table the wind wouldn’t catch it in the same way. It is still likely to spread from a table but I found that by adding a small mesh tray on my table it did help with most spill landing on the table base itself. I also found that by changing back to my first ground mesh feeder I had less seed to spread ;-)

Like the birds, I was fussy with my bird food choices! I was asking for it all in my seed mix! I wanted empty dishes and the place all cleaned up after the diners were finished ;-)




Yes, when there was no sunflower hearts on the other bird tables in my garden, my first trial dish did get emptied after a few days. I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised. I had a mixed seed mix that could tempt me back to buying it :-)

But… yes there is a ‘but’… the small seed was being left on the larger ground feeder where it blew to the edges. It was also left on the trays on the other two tables. Not being one for giving up easily when it comes to feeding experiments in my garden, I gathered up all the small seed and poured it on the centre of a new filling of my ground feeder to see what happened there. The small seed still wasn’t being cleared.

At this point, I decided to return the large ground feeder back to where it was below other feeders and I brought the first smaller trial dish out again. I swept up the seed that was left on the ground and started again with the small seed as my trial now.

I filled my first trial seed tray with the small seed remains from the other tables and was delighted to see the Blackbirds and Robins coming to feed from it! Then along came a Woodpigeon who returned quite a few times making good inroads to the small seed – however it did make a bit of a mess too. After a few days the tray wasn’t completely emptied but the trial bag of RSPB table mix extra was.



I ended my trial back in early December and can confirm that Grey Squirrels don’t approve of the RSPB table mix extra. So what about me? Well, in the main I did approve of this new mix. I would say this seed mix is the best that I have tried so far. Although, if anyone is listening, I might like to see fewer small seeds and some more of the flakes (the birds in my garden did choose them).

Ooops… I have a confession to make now. As I had a tub of sunflower hearts and peanuts in my shed I went back to using them at my tables adding bread crumbs and mixed dried fruit some of the time. Recently, my stock of sunflower hearts began to run out and when I discovered how expensive my large 12.75kg would be I didn’t take it. It seems the weather of last summer has had an impact on sunflower heart yield and the cost increase reflects this. I bought a smaller amount from the fill your own paper bags.

Ah yes… my confession! Well, my garden shed has a tub of mixed seed in it and it’s not the RSPB table mix extra seed that I said was the best I have tried so far (she hangs head). Here in the UK we have rewards cards when you spend money in supermarkets. I had £17 of points (nectar) on my card and an offer at the end of an aisle in another store (Homebase) caught my eye and I came away with enough to fill my large empty seed tub in my shed (with some extra) and I only spent £1.33. I was well pleased. Perhaps the RSPB mix has converted me to mixed seed after all!

Ah… but… I do hope the peeps at RSPB headquarters in Sandy, Bedfordshire are still reading my lengthy post (I said I’d give honest feedback). I can confirm that the RSPB table mix extra is still the best seed mix I have tried as at present the Tom Chambers Seed Blend Classic and Daily is not going down too well in my garden. For the record, in complete honesty, I hadn’t planned a comparison in products but I can’t deny what I see looking out at my tables and ground feeder.

Quite simply, with my current seed mix, I went for quantity at little cost to me as the weather peeps said we should expect cold and snow and I wanted to stock up - I know how many birds I can expect based on previous spells. What I did wrong here, was not to try a smaller bag of the seed first and that is what my suggestion would be to anyone buying seed they have never tried before.

When the snow comes I suspect the Blackbirds will fight over the seed and Chaffinches will come in good numbers so it will mostly get taken so I’m happy enough with that. Although I also can't deny, that for the first time ever, as I finish this blog there are nine Woodpigeons in my garden and they are showing great interest in my seed mix... I'm getting a tad worried :-0




Finally, I want to say thanks again to the peeps at RSPB Sandy for asking me to trial their new seed mix. It was fun trying something different and watching to see what happens. I hope this post has helped them and anyone considering using their new table mix.

I also want to give one more reminder about peanut feeders being a great idea as an addition to any seed mixes you use. Blue tits are probably the first birds you’ll see feeding but if you are lucky enough, like me an hour ago, you might get the very sweet Long-tailed tits (winter visitors) descend in a small group to feed. Oh but you should know…. remember mixed seed mixes aren’t just for winter ;-) Parent birds appreciate food during Spring and Summer too :-)

Wishing you a great weekend, what do you expect to see out your window or out on walks? What feeders/foods do your bird visitors favour?


This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2013.

15 comments:

Joe said...

Hi Shirl,

Nice post and some great photos there. Seems as though that seed mix was very popular. The number of chaffinches on that first clip of the video montage was really impressive, we never get quite that many on the feeders back home.

Also fingers crossed on a Red Squirrel turning up for a drink in that little pond, you never know what might happen in chilly weather like this!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Your grey squirrels look just like ours. I keep my pump in the water feature all year. It does freeze sometimes but some years it doesn't. Your pond is deeper than mine. It should do just fine. Have fun watching.

patientgardener said...

Do you think the birds prefer feeding off the mesh tray than the ground? I often wonder when I see them for sale.
Was thrilled today to not only have Fieldfares feeding on some apples I put out but also two Bramblings on the sunflower feeder

HELENE said...

What an interesting post, I am quite new to bird feeding and have got a lot to learn! Thanks for all the info.

Angie said...

I see your thoughts re seed mix is pretty much the same as mine...... Messy!
I've bought in some different seed mixes for the bad weather and bird watch (my first time). so ill see how they go. I've learned a lesson and only put seed on the feeders on the lawn. I'm still weeding from when the old bird table got blown over 4 years ago!
Very informative and you certainly put a lot of work into your trial. Well done and I'm sure the RSPB are grateful for your feedback.

ShySongbird said...

A very interesting and comprehensive post Shirley. I'm sure the birds enjoyed participating in your trial :-) I too don't like those tiny seeds that get left behind, they do make a mess and none of the birds seem really keen on them unless there is nothing else I suppose. I have a regular flock of feral pigeons visiting my garden and while they are a bit of a nuisance they do clear up the food that drops from the feeders and keep the ground much tidier than it used to be :-)

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you did get a visit from a Red Squirrel...you never know!

I see from your previous post that you need no reminders about the Big Garden Birdwatch :-) Regarding your comment on my blog, you gussed very accurately, yes, I thoroughly enjoyed Winterwatch...I could watch Allyearroundwatch ;-)

Have a lovely weekend Shirley and I hope you don't get too much troublesome snow.

ShySongbird said...

I forgot to say I enjoyed the video with the jaunty background music and the photos too especially the sweet little Robin and the Squirrel :-)

Robin's Nesting Place said...

I love your bird feeding area! The video was fun to watch and
I'm glad you caught the squirrel drinking from the pond!

easygardener said...

You had an impressive number of visitors to test out your seed mix.
I agree that the small millet type seed is always the one left on the feeding trays. I would be quite happy if it was left out of any mixes.
Unfortunately my squirrels are not as discerning as yours and clear any seed I put out - except the millet of course :-)

Sue Garrett said...

Only problem is that the RSPB stuff is much more expensive when you need sacks on the stuff.

We go for variety too and find that variety of food and location brings in a good variety

Anna said...

Glad to read that the grey squirrels did not approve of this mix :) Will look out for it on my travels. Thanks for such a thorough review Shirl.

buonaforchetta said...

test again, Christina

buonaforchetta said...

Hi Shirl, this is Christina (my hesperides garden) I've been having trouble leaving a comment of this post, but it did work above but under the name of the first blog I have, if you have a momment can to check where the link takes you, thank you and this was a great post.

Gaz said...

Lovely post and photos as always. It looks like the mix was very popular especially from the clip.

Shirley said...

Hello everyone, thanks for all your comments :-D

Joe, thanks, ah but we do get a lot of Chaffinches here in Scotland – it’s our top bird in the RSPB count. Enjoy your count if you take part. Wishful thinking on the red squirrel but nice to wish :-D

Lisa, yes, I’ve seen that in US blogs. Thanks for the tip on the pump – I’ll keep my water level topped up :-)

Helen, yes, I’d say the birds do favour the mesh trays when seed is on the ground unless there are lots of birds and it’s a free for all ;-) I was delighted to hear of your winter visitors. We still have Bramblings visiting and I’ve a story to tell on one after my next post ;-)

Helene, thanks for stopping by. I hope my suggestion helped you get birds to your feeder :-)

Angie, yes having a mix of foods and seeds for winter is a good plan. Yep… the downside on the mixes is weeds, I try to be careful where I put them knowing there’s a clean-up come spring. Enjoy your first birdcount – you should probably know that your garden will go strangely quiet when you sit with your count. RSPB say quiet visitors (not usual days) evens out when there are so many people taking part. It can be disappointing though. However, we are helping by sending our results :-)

Jan, thanks – they probably did. Yes, the small seeds can be a pest but glad the pigeons are helping you out. I would be absolutely thrilled to see a red squirrel but the chances are even slimmer that if one should come that I’ll be in and looking out my window at the time. Keep your eye on live cams over the weekend. Wishing you a good weekend – enjoy your count :-D

Robin, thanks, it’s always tricky get long shots of the feeding area. There’s a coral barked Acer out of shot on the left that also has a hanging feeder or two and some apples. Yes, the drinking squirrel was a bonus :-D

Denise, yes, cold days bring in lots of finches, especially the chaffinches and this was actually a small group of them compared with what I could get. I struggle counting them. Lol… on the millet and the squirrels. I am being honest in saying that more gets eaten out of this mix than others I have tried. Enjoy the bird count if you take part :-)

Sue, I agree with the cost of the RSPB stuff. However, I hate the bigger waste of other mixes I have tried. Variety is the way to go as you say :-)

Anna, lol… the review of the squirrel was a bonus! I felt I had to be thorough for anyone spending money on seed. I hope your birds find it to their liking :-)

Christina, I hope this has been you leaving a comment and not someone using your name :-)

Gaz, thanks! Most bird food will be popular when temps drop. This semi open location attracted a good sized group of hungry beaks ;-)