How bird friendly is your garden?

Gail Braznell
As the countryside changes and more new houses are being developed due to the ever growing human population, gardens have become increasingly important as bird habitats. Most wild animals are dependent on four major factors in their habitat which are food, water, cover and space. Even in the smallest garden it is possible to provide birds with food and water at the very least. Making your garden a haven for birds isn’t just about hanging up a bag of peanuts when the weather turns nasty, there are lots of ways to give bird populations a boost, from creating new nesting places to introducing plants and trees rich in nuts and berries.

We live in a relatively new build house (2008) and our small garden has really started to mature with Magnolia, Rhododendron and other shrubs starting to take form and provide a lot of protective cover for the birds. There is a bird table, feeding station, fresh water and various hanging feeders around the garden with peanuts, mixed nuts, sunflower hearts and mealworms at this present time. For very little effort we have attracted a variety of birds, such as two spotted woodpeckers, a huge amount of blue tits and great tits, wagtails, more than a few robins, Starlings, Blackbirds, Sparrows and many more.
Your success in attracting birds into your garden depends on how you can meet their basic needs.
No animal can survive without the fuel required for growth, for powering muscles and for generating warmth. A bird not only has to find enough food to keep healthy it has to find enough food to rear a family. Sufficient amounts are needed to sustain the male through energetic courtship and vigorous defence of territory and the female through the manufacture and incubation of her eggs, later parents must find food for nestlings. It was once thought that birds should be fed only in winter, but now the experts advise putting food out all year round, a growing brood makes big demands on its parents. For example a pair of adult Blue Tits will gather as many as 1,000 caterpillars each day to feed their young and can spend up to 85 per cent of a day searching for food which is limited by the amount of varying daylight throughout the seasons.

So the easiest way to attract the birds into your garden is to provide them with nutritious, energy rich foods, whether that be with the feeders or the beetles, flies, spiders, earthworms, weed seeds and berries that are naturally growing in your garden. The nutritional requirements of birds are not very different from ours, they too need their proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

If you have periods when there are very few birds in your garden, think about what you can do to make your patch more attractive at that time of year. Don’t be impatient – activity generally builds up over the years as more birds get into the habit of visiting a garden. One of the best ways to ensure that they return is to make sure your feeders are always full.

You may have remembered to put out food, but don’t forget a supply of clean, unfrozen water is just as important, both for drinking and bathing. Putting a bird bath in your garden is another incentive for birds to visit, as water is needed all year round an can be easily integrated into your garden.

Attracting birds into our garden is not always consistent with other activities around the home. For example, garden birds may get disturbed or attacked by our much loved domestic pets, they could be endangered by the chemicals we use around the house or garden and birds are also threatened by other wild species. Many wild animals get tempted into the garden to take advantage of the birds seeds and nuts, Magpies and rats raid nest boxes, grey squirrel’s take nuts but the most dangerous garden villain of them all is the domestic cat. According to the RSPB, 27 million birds are killed every year in this country by the 7.2 million cats UK residents keep as pets. Often cages around bird feeders are enough to deter most of the raiders. Place your feeders away from low cover that could conceal a cat – they are sit-and-wait predators and rely on cover to sneak up on their prey. Also have a polite word with any offending cat owners, try to encourage them to fit a bell to their cat’s collar to give the birds some warning.
Many birds will have already started vetting potential nesting sites to raise their young. If you had a nesting box for Christmas or there’s one sat around your shed, now is the time to put it out before it’s too late for another year.

Birds you can attract to your garden

By providing a variety of food-sources, positioning your feeders carefully and encouraging nesting, you will attract a wide range of common birds to your garden all year round, as well as a few surprises.

Green woodpeckers are rare visitors to gardens, but they will feed on fallen apples and berries and take seeds and nuts, especially when the ground is frozen.

Siskins are common garden visitors, especially if it has been a bad year for seeds, and enjoy sunflower seeds and peanuts. Redpolls will sometimes join their flocks.

Woodpigeons are increasingly common in gardens, where they forage under bird tables and on lawns for shoots and seeds.

Sparrowhawks often target feeders in gardens, especially when they are rearing young, so make sure yours are positioned so that birds can see predators coming.

Dunnocks are one of the less conspicuous garden birds, preferring dense cover both for feeding and nesting, though they are more visible when mating in spring.

Goldfinches now visit over half of the UK’s gardens every week – they love sunflower hearts and nyger seeds so sprinkle some on your bird table to attract these pretty birds to your garden.

The Chaffinch is one of the most colourful birds in the garden and you’ll hear them before you see them as they have a loud chirp so make sure you listen out!

The Great tit has been the 5th most common bird to be seen in British gardens for 15 years. You’ll spot their glossy black head and white cheeks amongst the trees. They love to eat insects, seeds and nuts.

A Blue tit is spotted easily, because of their colourful mix of blue, yellow, white and green feathers. Look out for these tiny birds in trees and hedges.

The Robin is everyone’s favourite bird, the males and females both look the same and have been known to follow gardeners around the garden looking for worms.

Cheeky squirrel. Photography by Gail Braznell© Reflected Images