Food is the main draw to your garden so a variety of feeders filled with a range of foods will maximise the species of birds that choose to visit your patch. Peanuts and mixed bird seed are most popular but if you also add the black shiny seed called ‘niger thistle’ you may attract delightful goldfinches and the winter visitors siskins. Some birds are a little less vegetarian and meal worms sound revolting but purchased freeze dried and placed on a low feeding tray will attract robins, wrens and blackbirds. High-energy fatty foods will help the tit family and others through a cold winter. Suet balls will attract these and finches too. Whatever you feed, be consistent as birds visiting your garden can become reliant on you for food.
Perhaps the most obvious, but having a bird table in your garden really will bring the birds flocking in! Choose or make one that is tall enough to deter the local moggie. I favour tables that are covered by a roof as it keeps the food drier but if possible make sure that the roof is large enough to dump the rain over the sides and not onto the table. The table itself should be easily cleanable and if it has a low surrounding ledge make sure that there are gaps for water to drain away. There are lots of bird tables around and some of them are a little over the top in terms of looks but, whichever type you go for, site it in a prominent place where you can easily see birds feeding from your windows.
If your garden doesn’t have any trees or shrubs you can improvise with a dustbin filled with sand into which you stick some brushwood, that way you can even have your bird feeders right outside the kitchen window! Take care to hang the feeders in areas where cats can’t easily pounce.
Plant trees and shrubs that provide food. Buddleja, lilac and birch will grow seeds to feed your birds and are attractive garden plants in their own right. But fruiting plants such as Pyracantha, holly, rowan, Cotoneaster and crab apples are perhaps showier. These, and fallen apples left on the ground below trees, will provide a feast for the thrush family and a welcome feed for Northern European redwings and fieldfares that spend their winter with us.
Plant perennials and grasses that provide food Ornamental grasses provide seed well into winter and ornamental thistles, such as Echinops, are great attractants too. Evening primrose and teasel will almost certainly attract a charm of goldfinches.
Plant native or near native, and avoid planting double and highly bred flowers as simple single flowering plants will be more wildlife friendly. There is a great beauty and simplicity in many wildflowers. Seed companies have woken up to the potential of sowing bird friendly seed and many such as West Country based Suttons offer a complete range. Whatever you do, never dig plants from the wild.
Cats are possibly the number one predators for garden birds so install a sonic deterrent and attach a bell to the cat’s collar so that birds get a little advanced warning. Electronic detectors that initiate a water sprinkler to come on may harmlessly encourage the local moggie to go elsewhere.
This is the ideal time to plant or thicken up a hedge. If you use native species such as hawthorn, blackthorn, dog rose, guelder rose and wayfaring tree you are much more likely to attract birds. Beech, box and yew are more formal but are first-rate hedging plants! It you trim each side of your hedge in alternate years that gives a native hedge the chance to provide even more wildlife friendly features with plenty of flowers, seeds and berries being produced. Whenever you do trim it, always avoid the main spring nesting period.
Hang up nest boxes.
Place them in cool shady places and high enough to be out of reach of predators. The size of the entrance hole can influence who takes up residence so provide a range for them to choose from. Often forgotten, nest cups for swallows and martins tucked under the eaves may be all that is needed to start them building their own nests on your house. A species in decline, the house sparrow, will often adopt you if you install a social nest box that can house their families.
Water is most important!
Water in the garden attracts all manner of wildlife but birds value a pond for drinking. If you don’t have enough room for a small pond then a birdbath will suffice. During winter birds need to be able to regularly wash and maintain their feathers. This enables them to keep warm during long winter nights and of course fly to get food and escape predators.
Limit the use of garden pesticides and use the safer ones available. Apply them late in the evening and try to treat only the worst affected plants rather than blanket spraying. Physical barriers to prevent pests getting at fruit and vegetable crops can be highly effective and companion planting to encourage more natural predators into your crops works well too.
Garden birds are struggling following a poor Summer.