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Blue tit on feeder

Attracting birds to your garden can help to create a healthy, nature-friendly ecosystem – and watching garden birds is good for your wellbeing

attract more birds to your garden

10 easy ways to

1 Put out food

Different types of food will attract different birds. Many of our favourite garden bird species – such as blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, robins, chaffinches and bullfinches – will eat peanuts and seed mixes. Peanuts are also particularly enjoyed by nuthatches and woodpeckers. Nyger seed, meanwhile, should attract goldfinches and siskins.

Suet balls and bars provide birds with a high-energy boost, and all sorts of birds love them. Mealworms sprinkled on a bird table will attract robins.

Chaffinch on a feeder

Provide seeds, nuts and suet balls in bird feeders – never use nylon mesh, as birds' tiny feet can become entangled. Also scatter some seeds on the ground or on a bird table, for ground-feeding birds such as blackbirds, robins and thrushes. Only feed whole peanuts in a feeder, though, to prevent choking.

A note on avian flu. According to the RSPB, garden bird species are currently understood to be low risk in terms of susceptibility to the virus. So it's extremely unlikely that bird flu could be transmitted to people by feeding garden birds. It's important however to maintain good hygiene at bird feeding stations – including regularly cleaning feeders outside with mild disinfectant, removing old bird food, spacing out feeders as much as possible, and washing hands.

2 Offer fresh water

Water is just as important as food – birds need fresh water for both drinking and bathing. During winter, natural sources of water may become frozen. In prolonged periods of dry summer weather, the same sources can dry up.

A wildlife pond is an excellent water-source for birds. Make sure there are shallow areas, or strategically placed stones, so that birds (and other creatures) can reach the water easily. In very cold weather ponds can freeze over, so you may need to break the ice.

Starlings in a bird bath

If you don't have a pond, there are lots of decorative bird baths available to buy. But any watertight container with a depth of up to 10cm will do the job. It should have sloping sides, for ease of access, or put some stones into it to allow smaller birds to reach shallow patches of water. Make sure there's an escape route, such as a plank of wood, to allow small animals such as hedgehogs to exit the water if they fall in.

3 Provide shelter

It's important for birds to have places to rest and nest. Plants that provide thick foliage and protective thorns will help keep birds safe from predators – hawthorn, blackthorn and holly are ideal. If you have space, grow a hedgerow containing some of these plants. Birds also like to roost and nest in ivy thickets, so avoid cutting ivy back, especially during nesting season.

Robin in a holly bush

4 Increase insect populations

Swallow, swifts, blue tits, robins, wrens, blackbirds, house sparrows… all these birds and more will include insects and other invertebrates in their diet. So, to attract more birds to your garden, first attract more insects!

Growing nectar-rich plants is a good way to do this. Annuals such as cosmos, calendula, poached egg plant, or nasturtiums are cheap and easy to grow. Sedums, lavender, rosemary, verbena bonariensis and penstemons can be grown in a flower border or in containers.

Verbena bonariensis

Other ways to increase supply of insects include creating a pond, and allowing areas of grass to grow long. Leaf and log piles can be great habitats for invertebrates such as spiders and beetles, which are eaten by several garden bird species.

5 Feed them your leftovers

Some kitchen scraps are suitable for wild birds. Cooked rice and grated cheddar cheese are excellent, and apples and pears are very popular with blackbirds, thrushes and fieldfares.

There are some foods to avoid, as they can be harmful. Milk, soft cheeses, desiccated coconut, and salty or mouldy food can all be harmful. Dried pulses, dry pet food, uncooked rice and cooked porridge oats should also be avoided.

6 Don't be too tidy

Avoid cutting back dead plants in winter, as these can provide food – either from the insects sheltering in the stems, or from seeds in the seedheads. Teasels, thistles, and sunflowers all produce seeds that are eaten by birds.

In spring and summer, let dandelions grow – the flowers attract insects, and goldfinches feed on the seeds. Other wild plants can also be beneficial to birds – nettles, for example, are a food source for butterfly caterpillars, which are eaten by some birds.

Avoid hedge cutting and trimming from the beginning of March to the end of August – this is the breeding season for nesting birds.

7 Grow trees that produce berries

Many birds love berries, and they are an important natural food source in autumn and winter – especially for blackbirds, fieldfares, redwings and starlings.

Hawthorn berries

Good trees to grow for a supply of berries for birds include rowan, hawthorn, holly and ivy.

8 Put up a nesting box

Giving birds a place to bring up a brood is a good way to attract more birds to your garden. Nest boxes come in different sizes for different species, and should be positioned in a safe place where cats or other predators can't reach it.  

It's a good idea to get nest boxes put up a few weeks before birds start to think about breeding. National Nest Box Week encourages people to provide more nesting sites for birds, and runs from 14 February each year. Birds also use nest boxes to roost in – so if you can put up a nest box earlier in the year, even better.

Bird nesting box

See this information from RSPB about choosing, building and siting nest boxes.

9 Offer nesting materials

It's a good idea to provide nesting material too. This can be any natural fibre or plant materials such as straw, twigs, dry grasses, wool, leaves, or moss raked from lawns. Offer a mix of strong materials to construct the nest, and softer materials to line and insulate the nest and provide cushioning for eggs.

Materials can be placed in a hanging basket or empty suet feeder – or just leave in a pile in a dry, sheltered place that birds can access easily.

Bird nesting materials in a basket

Placing nesting materials near the nest box makes it easier for birds to gather what they need, without them using up valuable energy reserves.

10 Avoid toxic chemicals

Use of some pesticides, weedkillers and fertilisers causes toxic chemicals to leach into the soil and end up in water sources. Pesticide residues in insects and worms can move up through the food chain and harm birds.

Pesticides and weedkillers also reduce the natural food sources available to birds, by killing the insects birds eat, or the plants that produce seeds that birds eat.

In fact these toxic products can have a massive impact on all sorts of wildlife.

Birds are brilliant at keeping pest populations in check: blue tits, for example, feed on aphids, and thrushes eat snails. So instead of using pesticides and weedkillers, aim to improve the natural ecosystem in your garden by making it as nature-friendly as possible.

Blue tit

Little Green Space January 2023

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