Attract birds to your garden to bring an extra layer of life. Wildlife is a whole new dimension to your motionless plot.
As well as the enjoyment they bring birds are also an important part of the garden ecosystem. They help control all sorts of pests from snails to aphids. But nowadays the balance of species is in danger with many declining bird species such as starlings and house sparrows.
So what can you do to attract birds to your garden? The answer is to give birds what they’re looking for. That’s food, water and shelter. If your garden provides all three throughout the year then you’ll attract a thriving bird population.
Food to attract birds
Grow plants that provide a variety of food for birds throughout the year. Aim to supply a mixed diet of seeds, berries and insects.
Plant nectar-rich flowers such as campanulas and salvias that attract insects to encourage an ecosystem where birds can thrive.
Don’t tidy away leaf litter or mow the whole lawn as this provides insects for ground-feeding birds.
Leave seed heads on your flowers as they provide feed over the autumn and winter.
Teasel, the most spectactular seedhead
You can supplement the plants on offer by adding bird feeders, especially for times of the year when the plants are bare.
Position feeders out of the reach of cats and other predators but bear in mind that it’s much safer for birds to feed under cover than out in the open.
If you provide extra food for birds do so regularly so that they see your garden as a feeding station.
Birds require different types of food at different times of year. In spring you can help parents by giving them protein-rich mealworms to support their chicks. It is especially important in spring not to put out whole peanuts when young birds are feeding – but this is something you should avoid the rest of the year too. In winter fat balls provide extra nourishment.
Water to attract birds
All birds need clean water for drinking and bathing. The need for drinking water is especially true for seed-eating birds which consume very dry food.
Install a fountain or bird bath away from bushes to reduce the threat from predators.
Running water keeps it from stagnating and the sound attracts birds too. You could use a Water Wiggler to keep the water moving (it works, by the way).
Water is likely to freeze over in the winter months making it difficult for birds to find somewhere to drink and bathe. Make a point of breaking the ice each morning or install a heated bird bath. Not something we had when I was nowt but a lad, but it makes sense.
A heated bird bath instead of setting your alarm clock 🙂
Natural shelter to attract birds
Birds need somewhere safe to build a nest. Attract birds by creating a habitat that provides the safety they’re looking for. Plant a variety of trees, shrubs and hedges for roosting and nesting.
Grow some evergreens for year-round shelter. Thorny bushes such as barberry will discourage predators but all will provide some cover plus protection from the elements. Climbers such as honeysuckle also provide good nesting foliage.
Natural shelter satisfies other needs too such as food and nesting materials. Aim for a balance of food sources throughout the year such as blossom for insects in spring and fruit or berries in summer and autumn.
If the natural sources in your garden don’t provide enough nesting material hang up a bundle of wool and straw for the birds to use.
Offer shelter for different types of birds. Some species of birds prefer dense foliage to nest in whereas others require holes. Some birds such as woodpeckers excavate their own cavity but most depend on natural cavities or abandoned holes.
Grow a shrub beside a wall to provide added shelter and cover for birds that nest in hedgerows, such as finches.
Most gardens have room only for small trees such as fruit trees but this is perfect for many types of birds, such as blackbirds or goldfinches.
Don’t forget flowers for the birds too! Flowers are an important part of the garden ecosystem supporting butterflies and bees and providing seed heads for the birds.
Ecosystems are not pruned to perfection! Delay summer pruning, leave seed heads and don’t rush to tidy away piles of leaves.
Nest boxes as shelter to attract birds
Your garden may not have enough trees to offer homes for hole- and cavity-nesting species of birds. In order to attract birds to your garden you should put up several nest boxes. Each type of bird has different requirements for shelter so aim to offer different-sized nest boxes.
Each species has its own preferences about where they want to live so if you want to attract a specific type of bird to your garden then research their particular needs. Choose a nest box that provides the right size, shape and opening – a 32mm entrance for house sparrows and a slightly larger box with a 45mm entrance for starlings.
Site each nest box so it faces between east and north in order to keep it out of strong direct sunlight.
When siting a nest box for small birds try to avoid obvious obstacles in their flight path such as trees or wires so they can move quickly to avoid predators.
When siting a nest box don’t limit yourself to trees as these may be home to predators such as birds of prey. Consider walls and fences too. A good position for a nest box is the eaves of your house.