In recent years the population of many common garden birds has been in sharp decline. Among the worst hit species are house sparrows that have declined by around 150 million birds in the past 30 years while starlings have seen their numbers fall by 45 million. It has never been more important to take steps to attract birds into your garden. In order to attract any birds into your garden you must first meet their basic needs: food, water, shelter and nesting sites.
As well as providing different colours and textures to your garden, many flowering perennials and annuals feature long lasting seed heads that are adored by many seed-feeding birds e.g. Echinacea and Rudbeckia. Delay any cutting back of these herbaceous plants until late winter or early spring. Ornamental grass seed heads are particularly long lasting and are beloved by sparrows and finches.
Any shrub or tree that produces berries or seeds is an excellent choice in a bird friendly garden. Most berries begin to form in early autumn just when birds need to build up their fat reserves for the coming winter.
If possible it is best to plant a range of as many different kinds of plants as possible. Excellent choices include Cotoneaster, Ilex (Holly), Pyracantha, Sorbus (Mountain Ash), Malus (Crab Apple), Yew, Gaultheria, Ivy and Mahonia.
As well as providing natural sources of food for birds it is particularly worthwhile to also provide supplementary feeding spots. Bird tables and bird feeding stations are a great way to provide plenty of food for garden birds.
Once you start to put out food in your garden you will start to notice that birds are a creature of habit, so will return daily and will rely on you heavily in harsher weather. Make sure you top up feeders to stop them running out, and use fat balls and other suet based foods to give the birds a real boost in the early mornings. As well as wild bird seed mixes, other high energy foods which will attract a wider range of garden birds include; peanuts, niger seed, sunflower seed and mealworms. Adding kitchen scraps such as unsalted bacon rinds, raisins and hard cheese to your bird table will also make your garden particularly popular!
Birds need to have access to a supply of water all year round. They need to bathe and keep their feathers in good condition, and they need to drink it too. Ponds provide water for birds and attract additional wildlife to your garden. However, it is likely they may freeze over throughout winter and can be difficult to keep thawed during the day. Additional sources of water should also be provided if you do have a pond in your garden.
Bird Baths are a helpful way of providing water for birds and should be positioned in a sheltered position with shrubs nearby for perching and safety. They do need regular cleaning as they develop a build-up of algae, dead leaves and bird droppings. Remember to break up any ice in your birdbath in harsh weather, and if it is completely frozen remove all the ice and refill so that the birds always have access to some water. Refill your birdbath with clean, fresh water on a regular basis all year round.
Shelter and Nesting Sites
Birds need sheltered places where they can roost at night or shelter from predators or bad weather. Trees are ideal roosting spots for starlings and larger birds but small birds often prefer to shelter in shrubs and hedges. Dense climbers, conifers and evergreen shrubs provide protection against cold winds and can also provide useful nesting spots in spring.
It is possible to encourage birds to nest in your garden by providing them with nest boxes. Birds that are often found to use nesting boxes include Sparrows, Great tits, Blue tits and Robins. Nest boxes need to be positioned somewhere hidden away where they won’t be disturbed by humans or predators. Avoid sites near bird feeders as nesting birds would be forced to defend their territory from other birds seeking food. During winter, nest boxes should be cleared of any old nest material to prevent pests and diseases spreading to next year’s occupants.