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Garden Birds

How to attract birds into your garden

The quickest and easiest way to attract birds into your garden is to put out food for them through winter and early spring. This is when natural food becomes scarce and birds begin to depend on the food put out in gardens. Different species of bird visit gardens for food in winter. Which ones you see will depend on where you live.

Bird tables and feeders

A bird table gives you a clear view and offers birds some protection from cats. Try to place it in the open but not too far from a hedge or bush. This means the birds can make a quick dive for safety if danger threatens. You are more likely to see shy birds such as blackcaps, that do not usually stray far from cover. Various window ledge and hanging bird feeders are available. Acrobatic members of the tit family like hanging feeders. Green finches quickly learn to use special hanging feeders and seed hoppers too. In places, especially near woodland, other visitors to feeders may include nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers.

Ground feeders

Not all birds feed from raised tables or hanging baskets. Dunnocks, redwings, blackbirds, fieldfares and starlings are some of the birds which prefer to feed on the ground. Remember to put some food under your bird table or along the edges of a hedge or shrubbery for these birds.

What should I feed to my garden birds?

There is no mystery about feeding birds – all sorts of kitchen scraps make a welcome meal. Bread (moistened), cake, cheese, cooked potato in any form, currants, fruit, mealworms, unsalted nuts, pastry, dry porridge oats, raisins, suet, sultanas, and sunflower seeds all work well.

There are a few simple rules to follow though:

  • Never put out desiccated coconut as this may swell up inside a bird’s stomach. Fresh coconut is fine.
  • Moisten dry bread.

You will slowly discover the food preferences of the different birds who visit your garden, but here are a few ideas:

  • Acrobatic members of the tit family like hanging feeders filled with peanuts.
  • Green finches are fond of sunflower seeds and peanuts.
  • Goldfinches come in for nyjer (sometimes spelt Niger) seed.
  • New, more diverse foods are now available, giving variety to attract more kinds of birds.

Should I provide water for garden birds?

Birds need water – even in winter – for drinking and for bathing. Water keeps their feathers in good condition which gives them insulation during cold winter nights. Seed eaters need to drink plenty of water as they have such a dry diet. Other birds, such as blue tits may drink more in winter because a winter diet of dry nuts does not provide them with as much water as their summer fare of juicy caterpillars.

You should use a shallow dish or tray, or a larger container, such as an inverted dustbin lid for putting out water. You could make a more permanent water hole by digging a shallow scrape in a flower bed and lining with plastic held down with stones. Ideally, a pond will provide water for drinking and bathing all year round and will attract many interesting kinds of wildlife to your garden. And of course, you could buy a Bird Bath!

When to feed

It is really up to you when you feed the birds – but there are one or two guidelines which it makes sense to follow:

Spring and Summer – you can feed birds during spring and summer. Use peanuts only if they are in a mesh container, from which only the smallest pieces can be taken. During a drought you can help blackbirds and thrushes by putting out soft food such as fruit and grated cheese.

Autumn and Winter – if you start feeding, you should continue through the winter. The food you put out becomes steadily more important as the winter progresses because seeds, fruit and insects become hard to find. Many birds are creatures of habit and will make a special visit to your bird table or feeder once they learn there is food there. When the weather is really bad, a wasted journey to your empty bird table will make life even harder for them.

Birds use up their stores of food very quickly, turning it into energy to keep warm. In winter there are two critical times of day for them. Last thing at night they need to eat enough food to keep them going until dawn. First thing in the morning they must find food quickly, as their reserves have been used up during the long night. Try to ensure that there is food available at these two important times, but if this is difficult, then feeding early in the morning is best. Experiment with different foods. Blackbirds, thrushes and robins benefit from apples and pears cut in half particularly when the ground is hard.

Should I put up a nest box?

You can encourage more birds to live in your garden by providing places to nest. One way to do this is to put nest boxes up on walls, fences or trees.

You can buy a nest box or make your own.

  • Different sorts of nest boxes are available for different sorts of birds.
  • Don’t put out more than one or two of the same kind in an average garden.
  • Put you nest box in a quiet part of the garden where it cannot easily be disturbed.

Unusual nest sites for garden birds

  • Put an old jug, kettle or teapot on a shrub or tree (spout down for drainage) – robins have a reputation for using such artificial nest sites.
  • Why not leave a small window open in your garden shed, or make a special entrance under the roof? Birds are great opportunists and a blackbird or robin might take the chance to raise young out of reach of cats.
  • Pied wagtails will nest in all sorts of unusual places, including a pile of stones or bricks.
  • For a natural nesting site – ivy is valuable in any wildlife garden. Dunnocks, chaffinches and blackbirds can nest safely, hidden among the twining stems. The evergreen leaves provide shelter from the rain and cold and provide insect food. The berries are a valuable source of food in winter when other supplies are running out
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