Birds are a big favourite in the garden, but despite their near universal popularity, life can be tough for them and the numbers of many once common British species are in decline. Amongst those on the danger list are house sparrows, starlings, song thrushes and robins – but fortunately there are plenty of simple ways to help and best of all, the whole family can get involved. Just like us, when it comes down to it, birds need three main things – food, water and shelter.
Feeding The Birds
Providing birds with a little supplementary food is an obvious way to help and it can – quite literally – be a real life saver, especially as the weather turns colder or if there’s a sudden cold snap. Kitchen leftovers, such as suet, grated cheese, porridge oats and cooked rice or pasta will do for many species, although you’ll need to make sure to clear away anything that doesn’t get eaten to avoid encouraging rats or other unwelcome guests. Alternatively, purpose made products are readily available in pet shops, garden centres and many of the supermarkets.
High calorie foods, such as seed mixes or hard animal fat are ideal for many garden species and hanging feeders loaded with sunflower seeds and unsalted peanuts will prove popular too. Although black sunflower seeds have the best nutrient content, some birds can be a little reluctant to try them, so it’s worth mixing in some of the ordinary variety until you know your visitors will eat them. Depending on the kind of birds visiting your bird table, you could also put out bits of apple or pear for blackbirds and thrushes, while food bars and fat balls will be appreciated by goldcrests and tree creepers amongst others.
It used to be said that you shouldn’t keep feeding through the warmer months, but now most people agree that provided you avoid foods such as fat, bread or peanuts which may choke nestlings, keeping your bird table stocked up is a useful thing to do. A food shortage in the breeding season with so many hungry mouths to feed is definitely something to avoid!
While lots of people remember to fill up their birdbaths during a long, hot summer, it’s surprising how many of us forget when the frosts come – and, of course, if their normal water supply is frozen, then it’s bad news for the birds.
Making sure there’s water available year round will be a big help, remembering to top up with slightly tepid water when it’s really cold to delay the inevitable freezing.
Putting up nesting boxes is another very simple way to make life a lot easier for the birds. The benefit during the breeding season is pretty obvious, but don’t forget that during the rest of the year, and especially during the worst of the winter, many of the smaller garden birds will be very glad of a dry place to roost, well away from the bad weather. Although some of the more expensive boxes are wonderfully elaborate works of art in their own right, suitable ones can also be bought for very little cost – or made for next-to-nothing, if you fancy your hand at a bit of simple woodwork. Make sure you know what kind of birds you’re likely to be expecting, as this makes a difference to the size and design of box you’ll need. The size of the entrance hole is an important factor for many birds:
- One inch (25mm) – blue, coal and marsh tits
- One-and-a-quarter inches (32mm) – great tits, nuthatches and house sparrows
- One-and-three-quarter inches (45mm) – starlings
- Open fronted – blackbirds, robins, wagtails and wrens (depending on box size)
There are also special boxes available for the likes of tree creepers and woodpeckers, if you’re lucky enough to have them visiting your garden.
As a final point, it’s worth remembering that leaving an area to go a bit wild can be a big help. Many plants – especially native ones – offer great nesting sites and foraging places. A good covering of ivy, for instance, can provide an excellent habitat for insects which many birds will enjoy hunting, while also making a perfect concealed spot for wrens and blackbirds to build their nests. Helping the birds doesn’t come much simpler than just leaving your pruning shears in the shed!