Eco Tips: Welcoming Garden Birds

The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch results are now out – https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/

The sparrow is still the most commonly observed garden bird but we have not seen one for about 20 years in our garden.

Can we do more to encourage bird populations that frequent our gardens?

  • Fresh water – provide a bird bath, pond or shallow bowl of fresh water for both drinking and bathing. Bowls and baths should be regularly cleaned and topped up with fresh water. 
  • Food – providing food is an easy way of attracting birds. Commercially produced bird food offers a wide range of seed and fat based foods. Some are specially adapted so that spilt seeds do not sprout so preventing a mini grain field growing under your bird feeder. Different foods can attract different birds. For example nyger seeds are popular with goldfinches. 
  • Growing bird food – you can provide bird food by growing it in your garden. Goldfinches like eating the seeds from dandelion heads, from teasels and from lavender bushes (leave the ‘dead’ seed heads in place). Blackbirds like apples. Starlings like the berries from the mahonia bushes and yew trees. Blue tits and great tits like eating aphids and other insects that congregate on plants stems and shoots.
  • Hygiene – birds can be killed by germs that multiply when bird feeders become fouled by bird droppings and by stale/ rotting food. Regularly cleaning bird feeders is important, as is removing stale food. The ground underneath bird feeders can also become foul so it is good to regularly move their positions and to clean the area underneath them.
  • Shelter – hedges and shrubs provide welcome places of shelter especially for small birds such as wrens and sparrows.  Bushes can provide a safe place from which birds can check out the safety of a  bird feeder before darting out. 
  • Nesting boxes provide a particular form of shelter. Different birds have different requirements. Blue tits need boxes with only a small opening, whilst robins prefer a wider opening. Swifts and martins need high level nesting places. Hygiene again is important: winter is a good time to clean  old nesting boxes ready for the new season. 
  • Variety of habitats – by learning more about different bird species, we can understand better the habitats they prefer and how we can shape our gardens to better meet their needs. Black birds for example are ground feeders. They eat grubs and worms that they pull from the soil. Short, rather than long, grass makes this easier. Black birds can’t hang from bird feeders but they can perch on bird tables. Sparrows and wrens like hedges. Starlings like tall trees where they gather and survey the land.

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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