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Chaffinches on feeder

help garden birds

4 easy ways to

Many of our wild birds are in decline. But it's easy to help them out and attract them to your garden

Birdwatching is a fascinating hobby – and our feathered friends are useful allies in the garden, gobbling up pests like aphids, slugs and snails.


But what do you do if you don't have many birds visiting your garden? The best way to encourage more garden birds is to provide them with the things they need to survive. Many wild birds are in decline – and they can really struggle during a harsh winter, so food, water and shelter are key. Even if you only have a tiny garden, offering these essentials will make a world of difference.


We've put together four simple actions that should help to attract a variety of bird species – try all four for best results!


1. Offer a variety of food

It's essential for birds to feed well during the day, every day, as a bird can lose up to 10 per cent of its body weight during just one cold night.

  

There are many suitable foods you can offer, and different types of food will attract different species. Finches enjoy sunflower and nyjer seeds, robins like mealworms, and blackbirds and thrushes love to peck at apples and pears.

  

If you put out a selection of feeders offering peanuts, mixed birdseed, sunflower seeds and nyjer seeds, you should soon have all sorts of birds flocking to your garden. The bigger the choice, the more birdlife you're likely to see!

Lots of birds on a feeder

Suet blocks or balls are loved by many birds – but make sure you remove them from any nylon mesh bags, as birds can become entangled in the netting.

  

Many kitchen scraps make good snacks for birds. Porridge oats, cooked potato, grated cheese and leftover pastry provide a high-energy boost that really helps during cold weather. Dried and fresh fruit are also a good source of energy.


In cold weather it's best to feed the birds in the morning to replace energy and weight lost overnight. Feeding them again in the late afternoon will keep them going until the following day.

Nuthatch on feeder

Some species, like blackbirds and collared doves, prefer to feed off the ground or from a bird table. Remember to make sure the food placed out is fresh – you'll find that once the peanuts have turned black with successive rain-soaking and drying out, few birds will touch them. Keep an eye on your bird tables, and remove any food that's not being eaten. And continue to offer food regularly, as the birds that visit your garden feeders will become reliant on this food-source.


2. Don't forget the water!

Many people put out food for the birds but tend to forget that water is important too. Just like us, birds need water to survive, and their usual drinking places – such as ponds – may be frozen over in winter or dry in summer.

small garden food
Robin on a birdbath

Providing a shallow dish of fresh water will ensure that the birds visiting your garden never go thirsty. Wild birds will soon get to know that they can rely on a free drink at your place and you'll be surprised at how the sightings increase.

  

Birds often drink from garden ponds, so if you have a pond and it freezes over, break the ice to allow birds – and other creatures – access to the water.

  

Make sure that the water is kept clean and the birdbath or dish scrubbed regularly to remove the algae that can accumulate. Birds love a really splashy dip (a collared dove or wood pigeon can virtually empty the bath in a single session) but they're not too fussy about where they drop their droppings! Clean out and replace the water regularly, and in really cold weather check that the birdbath has not frozen over.


3. Don't be too tidy

If you don't tidy up your garden too much you'll really be helping the birds, as well as other wildlife. By leaving seed heads such as thistle, teasle and sunflowers in situ over winter, you'll be providing birds – especially finches – with a readily-available food supply. The hollow stems of plants like these often harbour hibernating insects, too – so don't be too hasty with the garden shears!

Blue tit on a twig
Sparrow in a tree

Birds will like your food offerings more if there's some kind of protective cover nearby, such as a thick hedge, tree or shrub where they can seek shelter from predators. Ivy and other evergreen climbers are great for birds too – offering a place to hide or build a nest.

  

Birds will sometimes nest in the strangest places: upturned watering cans, hanging baskets and old flowerpots could all end up housing a brood – birds have even been known to nest in the pockets of washing left hanging on the line!

  

In fact any nook or cranny in your garden could be seen as a potential nesting site, so be extra careful when clearing up around the garden. Along with the toads, hedgehogs and hibernating insects, birds would probably prefer it if you left the tidying for as long as possible!


4. Give a bird a home

Providing a nest box ensures garden birds have a warm and safe place to set up home. Nest boxes will be used by smaller species for roosting in over the winter, and could then become a place for breeding when spring eventually arrives. Within 10 years a single nest box can provide shelter for 100 baby blue tits – and as blue tits love to eat aphids and other garden pests, they're pretty handy to have around!

A single nest box placed well out of reach, perhaps up near the eaves on a wall that doesn't directly face between south and west, may well attract a family of blue tits, great tits, or – if you're really lucky – house sparrows. And a bigger garden might well be suitable for lots of nesting boxes on walls, behind sheds or in trees.

Nest box
Basket of nesting material
Chaffinch on a feeder

It's a good idea to put out some nesting material for birds, too. Place a range of natural fibres and plant materials – straw, grasses, fur, wool, leaves from spring pruning and moss raked from the lawn – in a hanging basket or nearby bush. This makes it easier for birds to gather the nesting materials they need for a cosy home without using up valuable energy reserves.

  

Hopefully these ideas will inspire you to make your garden a haven for our wonderful wild birds. Happy birdwatching!

Little Green Space February 2017