Want to help out your garden birds but don’t know where to start? Or want to encourage more birds to come hang out by your house so you can day dream for hours while watching them? Here are 10 things that I think should get you started!
1. Hang up a bird feeder full of tasty seeds. The key is to keep the feeder fully stocked, if you regularly leave it empty then the birds will forget about your garden and move on to another source. Another important factor is location – my feeders are in a smallish tree with plenty of branches for the birds to hop around on, and its next to an evergreen bush so they have some protection too. If you’re not having any visitors to your feeder, try a different location and wait a few days. Its also really important that you keep the feeder clean to stop any diseases spreading. Different birds like different seeds, so you can either opt for a general mix or buy a few feeders and put different seeds in each.
2. Bulk out their year round seed food with some winter fat cake, or other fatty scraps from the kitchen. In the winter, birds need to eat regularly to stay alive and sometimes those food resources just aren’t available in our modern towns and cities. Offering them fatty foods during the winter can make a huge different to the population numbers. See my previous blog post for how to make a bird cake!
3. Give them fresh water to clean and splash around in. Another problem for birds in the winter can be an available water source, so i you’ve got a bird bath, keep it topped up with nice clean water.
4. Do your gardening with birds (and other wildlife) in mind. Lots of garden birds like to eat invertebrates, grubs and spiders, so avoid using pesticides or chemicals, and actively encourage bugs by leaving leaf piles in autumn and winter, or make log piles for year round. You’ll often spot a blackbird having a good rummage under the leaves for some tasty grubs!
5. Put bird silhouette stickers on windows. This discourages birds from flying into the glass, especially large bay windows and patio doors, and causes themselves some serious harm, or even death.
6. If you have a cat (like I do), there are some things you can do to discourage them catching any of your local birds: fit your cat with a collar and bell (the noise makes it harder for the cat to sneak up on birds); keep feeders high up or in tricky positions for the cat to reach; and keep your cat locked in over night. And don’t forget the sure-success tactic of having a word with your cat about how your household is a non-catching-birds type household, this always works a treat with my cat (not).
7. Plant things in your garden with birds in mind. This could include some long grasses for birds to use as nesting materials, or hedges such as hawthorn full of delicious berries.
8. Put up bird boxes to give more places to nest. Each bird species has different needs (from size of the hole, to box shape, to placement of box) so make sure you buy ones for your local birds. Or even better, make one! The RSPB Give Nature a Home website has a very easy tutorial and template for making a nest box. Here is one my brother made for my mum’s garden and last year she had a family of blue tits nesting in it!
9. Look out for fledglings. During late spring and summer, if the birds have taken a liking to your garden, you make start to see some tiny fledglings out and about. If you do see one on its own, its usually best to leave it alone as the parent is probably nearby, and moving it will confuse them. If you’re very worried about it and it looks injured or unwell, try contacting your local wildlife hospital.
10. Experiment with box cams. This last one is more for you than the birds, although by monitoring their use of boxes and behaviour using small remote cameras, you can make changes to what you are offering your local birds. This is something I’ve never actually tried before so if anyone has any experience of using a camera in bird boxes (or any other wildlife cameras) then please comment below with any advice!
It really doesn’t matter what size space you have to encourage birds in to – a small concrete patio or balcony in a city can attract birds if you keep some well-stocked feeders at easy access (make sure you do the window stickers if you are putting food by large windows or patio doors). Give them somewhere to hop to and from the feeder, either some perches or pot plants/small hedges. If you’ve got a much larger space, you can go further and create a more wild garden, maybe with a nature pond, leaving areas unkempt and messy for bugs, wild flowers.
You could also keep note of the different birds you get into your garden, especially before you actively encourage them and after. Get a handy ID guide and note down how many species you get visiting, you may even wish to buy my very own Spotter Jotter Guide to Garden Birds to have on your wall by your window ready for such an occasion!
And if you’re doing this, then you should DEFINITELY do the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch. You only need to spend one hour once year, noting down how many different species you get visiting your garden. The data is compiled to give scientists essential information about the health of our garden birds. The 2016 survey is this weekend, 30-31st January, so get on their website for more info and to register.