Advice on how to look after wild birds
We all love to catch a glimpse of the birds that visit our gardens. Not only are they fascinating to watch, they improve your garden’s ecosystem and control pests for us.
Make sure you know how to take care of our feathered friends so they’ll keep coming back, with our top tips to attracting birds to your garden.
Feeding throughout the year
You can feed the birds in your garden throughout the year but feeding becomes even more important over winter and early spring. Birds' natural food may be scarce then and they need even more energy than normal in order to survive the cold weather.
Winter is also the time of year when you might attract birds that are more difficult to spot in summer. Siskins, for example, make good use of garden bird feeders when food is hard to find in their woodland habitats.
Choosing the right type of food
Bird food needs to be high in energy and protein. Seeds, nuts and fats are much better options for them than bread. It can take a little while to find out which food the birds in your garden enjoy the most, so experiment with different types until you find their favourite.
You could try bird seed, unsalted plain peanuts, mealworms, fat and suet balls. Be sure to remove any nylon mesh before putting fat and suet balls out for the birds as this can entangle them.
Even fruit and kitchen scraps are a great source of food. Cut fruit up to make it easier for the birds to peck at. Pastry (cooked and uncooked), grated mild cheese and even cooked potato can be used as bird food.
Different types of seeds will encourage different kinds of birds, for example Tits and finches love sunflower seeds and goldfinches, greenfinches and siskins favour nyger seeds.
Choosing the right feeder
Birds feed in different ways, for example Finches and tits are very agile so can access hanging feeders easily, while thrushes and starlings find it easier to feed from the ground or from ledges. To cater for as many birds as possible go for a feeding station. These allow you to hang feeders from them as well as providing platforms to place food on.
Whichever type of feeder you choose, be sure to keep it clean. Trichonomosis is a disease that can have a devastating impact on greenfinches, sparrows and other finches. Removing old food and droppings can help to prevent disease.
Place bird food a small distance away from shrubs and fences so that cats and other predators won’t have easy access. When positioning your feeder, bear in mind that many birds will appreciate a lookout point a couple of metres away where they can wait to see if it is safe to approach.
Plants that attract birds
Insects and other bugs form a major part of a bird’s diet – especially in spring and early summer when bringing up their chicks. By adding certain plants into your garden, you can encourage insects into your garden and help increase the natural food levels for the birds.
Choosing plants and trees that grow fruit and berries is a great way to produce natural foods for birds. Try Pyracantha, Holly, Berberis, apple trees and pear trees.
Providing water and shelter
Thinking about the water and shelter available to birds that visit your garden is as important as providing food.
Bird boxes provide a good roosting spot in winter as well as a place to nest. Attach your nest box to a wall or tree, ideally about two to four metres above the ground. Placing a few wood shavings or dry hay inside will make it cosier for the birds. Avoid the temptation to peek inside nest boxes and disturb birds and chicks that might be in there.
Once autumn rolls around, empty out any debris from nest boxes and clean it with boiling water. Let it dry out before putting the lid back on and putting it up again.
If you can position your bird box on the north or east side of your garden, it will be sheltered from strong sunlight and kept a little drier as wind from the south and west tends to bring more rain.
A bird bath is a simple way to provide birds with fresh water for drinking and bathing. For an easy alternative, fill a plant saucer with water and weigh it down with a few stones. Whatever you use, make sure to clean the bath regularly so that the water stays fresh. Keep an eye on it when the temperature drops. Use warm water to melt any ice so that the birds can continue to bathe and drink.