It matters not how big, or small, your garden is, you can turn it into a haven for wildlife. It can be relatively easy, not at all expensive, and could give you hour upon hour of free entertainment.
In this article we’re talking strictly wild birds (although some of your activities will doubtless be welcomed by other species).
Making your garden a haven for birds will almost certainly lead you on to taking a closer interest in them, with the result that you suddenly discover you have acquired a new and exciting hobby.
The main things that will bring more wild birds into your garden are food, water, shelter and nest sites.
Even if you have only a tiny paved backyard, hanging bird feeders (even one) will provide an attraction for feathered visitors.
Peanuts are probably the first choice of feed but if you have room for more feeders you could branch out into mixed seed, sunflower kernels, nyger seeds (virtually a must if you want to see goldfinches), fat balls, coconut halves and mealworms. The bigger the choice, the more birds you’re likely to see.
Some birds, like blackbirds and collared doves, prefer to feed off the ground or at least from a biggish raised, flat platform. That’s where a properly constructed bird table comes into its own.
Remember to make sure the food placed out for the birds is fresh (you’ll find that once the peanuts have turned black with successive rain-soaking and drying out, few birds will find them palatable). Check and change the feed regularly or, if you are unable, get an able-bodied relative or neighbour to do it for you. Some experts advocate stopping the feeding during the summer, others put forward a convincing argument for continuing the free meals. The debate is ongoing!
Turn your garden into a haven for birds, says Ken Dykes – and help our feathered friends survive the cold winter months
Many people put out food for the birds but tend to forget that they need water too. If you or a close neighbour have a garden pond, that may suffice, although it’s always preferable to have your own purpose-made bird bath/drinking facility. Wild birds will soon get to know that they can rely on a free drink at your place and you’ll be surprised how the sightings increase. Plastic bird baths are fine but stone ones, I think, enhance the look of the garden - and won’t need pinning down to stop them blowing over.
Another caution here. Make sure that the water is kept clean and the bath scrubbed regularly to remove the algae that can accumulate. Birds love a really splashy dip (a collared dove 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 every couple of days.
They’ll like your food offerings more if there’s some kind of protective cover nearby, a thick hedge, tree or shrub where they can seek shelter from predators. Believe me, even in my modest town garden, sparrow hawks occasionally pay a visit to see what’s on the menu! If you have no such cover, consider planting a nice bushy shrub, like berberis, which has spiky thorns that deter both sparrow hawks and cats.
Not everyone will have room or opportunity to put up a nesting box - but a single 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. Of course a bigger garden might well be suitable for more nesting boxes on walls or in trees.
You don’t have to hurry to do all this bird attracting. Just add the different components when you have the time or the money.
Meanwhile, you can prepare to enjoy the fruits of your labour. Find a good viewing spot at a window overlooking the garden (a conservatory provides an excellent position), place a favourite armchair there, have a small table nearby for your coffee cup and bird identification book, sit back and enjoy!
The enjoyment will be very greatly enhanced if you also invest in a pair of binoculars. They needn’t be expensive and birthday and Christmas are good times to make your requirements known to the family.
Imagine. If just a thousand people decided to take up this simple challenge it would add about another 100 acres of land dedicated to helping our natural wildlife.
Please, if you decide to join the campaign, contact Little Green Space, let us know, and tell us how big your garden is. That way we can keep a running tally of the total ‘little green space’ acreage.
If you want to know just about everything there is to know about garden bird watching, including feeding, nesting boxes, identification and much, much more, visit the website of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds at www.rspb.org.uk
Little Green Space January 2016