Encouraging birds to any garden is easy if
you do just a few simple things. Provide them with shelter in the form of
trees, hedges and shrubs, add a few nest boxes, make sure there is a clean
source of water and of course, feed them. In my garden I regularly use
peanuts, sunflower seeds and hearts, mixed seed and nyjer seed as well as
fat blocks, fruit and table crumbs. It is also really important to make sure there
is plenty of natural invertebrate food for many different species including
warblers in the summer, but also for nestlings when birds are breeding, and
avoiding pesticides of all types in the garden. Predators (including
your birds) will soon build up in number to establish a balance in your
garden and you will find you have few, if any, problems with pests.
Many of our native bird species are declining in number because of loss of
habitat, nest sites and natural food in the wild. You can help them by
encouraging them to feed and breed in your garden. Making your garden a
haven for birds can be achieved in a number of different ways.
Feeding your birds
Feeding the birds with seed mixes and peanuts, which more than thirty
percent of us do in one form or another, is a very important aspect of
wildlife-friendly gardening and nowadays contributes to the conservation
and survival of many species. It is important to use good quality mixes of
seeds, sunflower seeds or peanuts, to ensure that you are not introducing
disease of any kind. Cleaning your feeders and bird tables is also
necessary. There are several bacterial and viral diseases that
affect our birds and these can be passed from one to another in their
droppings or by close contact. Many types of feeder are available, but do make sure you
keep them clean at all times.
Both the BTO (British
Trust for Ornithology) and the RSPB advise that we feed our garden birds
throughout the year, rather than just in the winter months. Mixed
seeds, black sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts and peanuts from hanging
seed feeders or on a bird table can be fed all year round. These
seeds are highly nutritious and provide adult birds with extra energy to
search for the natural food needed by their chicks in the breeding season as well
as being a vital food source for all birds in the winter.
prefer different types of food, so the more variety available at your bird
table and in your feeders, the more birds will visit your garden.
You can also feed kitchen scraps, such as the crumbs of bread or cake, small
pieces of cheese, and fruit including apples or pears which may be past their best.
A mixture like this will attract blackbirds, thrushes, blue tits, great
tits, sparrows, starlings, greenfinches, chaffinches, collared doves,
dunnocks and robins to name a few. Nyjer seed will attract goldfinches and
siskins. In more rural
gardens you may also see great-spotted woodpeckers and nuthatches, and in
the winter, redwings and fieldfares.
Providing natural food
A well-designed and effective wildlife garden will always make provision for
its wildlife visitors by incorporating plants that provide natural food.
There are many trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants that will encourage birds
to the garden. Most native trees and shrubs will support large numbers
of insects - these in turn will attract insect-eating birds like the tits,
robins, wrens and warblers. A tree of any kind in the garden will
provide a song post for birds, as well as a source of insect food. If
you can plant a native tree, so much the better. Good native trees for
birds include oak, wild cherry, goat willow, silver birch, holly, hawthorn,
rowan, crab apple and wild pear. Some non-native trees are also good
for birds, especially the flowering crab apples, willows, Prunus species and
the varieties of elder. Shrubs with berries will encourage birds to
feed in your garden in the autumn and winter. Plants such as
Cotoneaster, Berberis, Holly, Pyracantha, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Dogwood and
many other berried plants will bring birds to the garden. It is
important to note that as a very general rule red or orange berries are
most palatable to thrushes and blackbirds. Yellow berries, now common on
some varieties of shrubs, are often not eaten. In springtime young
birds in the nest need the protein-rich diet supplied by insects and other
invertebrates, and at the beginning of winter seeds and berries provide the
nutrients birds need to see them through the cold weather ahead. There
was a time when this natural harvest in the countryside, together with spilt
grain and weed seeds from fields of stubble, provided good pickings and a
vital food supply for all manner of bird species. Sadly this is no
longer the case. More and more birds need to rely on our gardens as a
source of food at all times of year so once you start feeding them it is
important to keep feeders topped up at all times.
Providing nest sites
Putting nest boxes around your garden can be immensely satisfying.
Robins, wrens, blackbirds, spotted flycatchers, great tits and blue tits, will all very readily
use an artificial nest box in the right situation. Boxes should be
attached to trees, fences or walls, facing away from full sun and prevailing
South facing boxes can get too hot and nestlings may overheat and die, so
never place a box in this situation unless it is very well shaded by
branches or climbers. East facing boxes may be exposed to cold spring
weather, so use your discretion when placing your box. The height of
the box from the ground will vary with the species you are trying to
attract. Blackbirds, robins and wrens will all nest quite low down but
in general look at putting your box at head height or above.
Many birds prefer to choose their own nest sites. Prickly bushes such
as holly, hawthorn, Pyracantha and Berberis make good nesting places for
those species that won't use a nest box.
Don't forget birds such as swallows, swifts
and house martins, which are declining due to lack of nest sites.
Swift Conservation for
information on helping swifts and nest cuops for swallows and house
martins are readily available.
Water is also vital to
your garden birds. A tiny barrel pond (see Make a Wildlife
will bring birds of all species to drink and bath. If you have room
for a bigger pond you will be creating a habitat for all manner of
wildlife as well as keeping your garden birds supplied with water for
bathing and drinking.
If you enjoy watching the birds in your
garden, and would be interested in helping with a Garden Bird Survey, the
BTO runs the Garden BirdWatch scheme. Participation entails
counting and listing the birds seen in your garden on a weekly basis.
There is a quarterly newsletter. For
more information contact the BTO at The Nunnery, Thetford, IP24
2PU, or visit
The BTO Website.