What are softbills?

Softbills, broadly speaking, are categorised as those birds whose beaks are not suitably adapted for cracking seeds, or penetrating the tough outer layers of certain husks and grains. This is in a relatively stark contrast to “hardbills”, which are those birds whose beaks are hard enough to crack open seeds (finches).

However, as with many things in nature, the distinction between softbills and hardbills is not quite so black and white. Robins, for instance, do have the ability to consume and digest very small seeds, but they wouldn’t necessarily crack them open. This is left to those birds with strengthened bills, such as finches, and Tits, whose habit it is to place seed in their feet and chip away at it with their bills.

Saying this, and because of the dietary requirements of softbills, any wild bird food provided should be low in iron. This is, crucially, because certain softbill birds can be affected by an iron storage disease, which affects the liver and prevents it from it’s a normal filtering function.

How can I identify softbills in my garden?

The most common softbill birds in the UK are:

Many exotic aviary birds, such as toucans, turacos and hornbills are classified as softbills, although it is highly unlikely for you to observe one of these in your garden, unless you live in a subtropical zone.

What can I feed my softbills?

If you do receive softbills in your garden, the best food you can put out is fruit and soft grains, which including dehusked sunflower hearts. You can even chop up some apple or leave out dried fruit for your birds. They will consume both.

Mealworm is also an incredibly popular type of food for softbills, especially live mealworms, but it is possible to feed dried mealworms that have been soaked overnight – an additional juicy treat. If you have grown a “bird-friendly” garden, or allocated a space in your garden where birds will feel more at home, try growing berry-bearing plants such as hawthorn, rowan, holly and honeysuckle.

How should I feed softbills in my garden?

Most softbill birds have a tendency to feed from the ground. Blackbirds are atypical in this regard since they are very common, and quite fastidious, ground feeders. Be sure to use a protective cover for your ground feeder as your softbill food may attract unwanted predators to your garden.

Ultiva® Robin & Softbill Mix

GardenBird Robin & Softbill seed mix

GardenBird offer a specialist premium Robin & Softbill seed mix that caters precisely for these types of garden birds. Ingredients include: