How to attract birds to your garden

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Birds will visit your garden if there’s plenty of food available, so the first thing to do is get up some feeders. Then you need to provide natural food, cover and nesting sites.

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Blue tit on feeder

It’s easy to attract birds to your garden, however small and close it is to a city, but the variety of species will increase with its size, how bird-friendly it is and its proximity to countryside or well-wooded parks.

Birds, such as nuthatches, are never far from mature trees, whereas predators, such as sparrowhawks and tawny owls, penetrate deep into some cities.

The key thing is to ensure that you meet the needs of your birds all year round, and that you accommodate the changing requirements of both residents and seasonal visitors.

While planting bushes with berries is good for thrushes in the autumn, they will soon strip the crop. So think laterally – if you live near a wholesale fruit market, buy trays of substandard apples for them to feed on when the berries have gone. Fat blocks are important in the winter and will attract flocks of starlings.

Dense cover will entice nesting dunnocks, robins and wrens, and nestboxes are good for tits and other hole-nesters. During the summer, thriving insect populations benefit tits and sparrows.

If you have periods when there are very few birds in your garden, think about what you can do to make your patch more attractive at that time of year. Don’t be impatient – activity generally builds up over the years as more birds get into the habit of visiting a garden. One of the best ways to ensure that they return is to make sure your feeders are always full.

FOOD, A HOME AND SECURITY: The basics of life will bring the birds to your garden 

Source your seeds Buy birdfood from reputable sources. This ensures that the seeds can provide the required levels of energy and have been grown with the environment in mind. Experiment with different sorts of feeders and seed mixes. For example, greenfinches adore sunflower feeders whilst goldfinches prefer niger seeds.

Make them feel at home Reduce the opportunities for predators like cats and sparrowhawks by placing feeders where the birds can spot danger easily. Avoid using garden netting, especially during the breeding season, and place feeders away from your house to minimise the risk of birds colliding with windows.

Let them build their own It’s great if your birds use the nestboxes you’ve put up, but it is even more satisfying if they create natural nest sites. Provide hedges with dense cover to allow them to do this.

Watch what happens To see whether your work has been effective, monitor the changes in bird numbers in your garden. What is the impact of very cold weather, for instance, on the numbers and species of birds using your garden? This will help you to plan future changes to the way you manage it. Join the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch project – it will also help you to see how well you are doing compared to others.

8 BIRDS TO ATTRACT TO YOUR GARDEN:

By providing a variety of food-sources, positioning your feeders carefully and encouraging nesting, you will attract a wide range of common birds to your garden all year round, as well as a few surprises.

  1. Dunnocks are one of the less conspicuous garden birds, preferring dense cover both for feeding and nesting, though they are more visible when mating in spring.
     
  2. Jays scatter-hoard acorns, hazelnuts and peanuts in gardens, burying them in flowerbeds and lawns. They prefer areas with mature trees, especially oaks.
     
  3. Green woodpeckers are rare visitors to gardens, but they will feed on fallen apples and berries and take seeds and nuts, especially when the ground is frozen.
     
  4. Fieldfares will visit your garden to feed on autumn and winter berries. If you have any apple trees, leave some windfalls for them, or buy and put out low-quality apples.
     
  5. Siskins are common garden visitors, especially if it has been a bad year for seeds, and enjoy sunflower seeds and peanuts. Redpolls will sometimes join their flocks.
     
  6. Woodpigeons are increasingly common in gardens, where they forage under bird tables and on lawns for shoots and seeds. They breed from April until autumn.
     
  7. Sparrowhawks often target feeders in gardens, especially when they are rearing young, so make sure yours are positioned so that birds can see predators coming.
     
  8. House martin numbers have declined by nearly 40 per cent since 1970, most probably due to the lack of nest sites, so put up artificial nest boxes to attract passing birds.

Expert top tips from Steve Harris:

  • Have binoculars handy Interesting birds can appear and disappear frustratingly quickly, so have a pair of binoculars to hand so you can grab them easily when you spot something.
  • Keep cats away If you have problems with cats, electronic deterrents should repel them from bird feeding areas. Place feeders away from low cover that could conceal a cat – they are sit-and-wait predators and rely on cover to sneak up on their prey. 
  • Clean your nestboxes Check your nestboxes each winter. Remove old nests and clean the boxes with hot water to kill parasites. Re-attach them securely – you don’t want the box to fall when it’s in use.
  • Change nestbox location Choose a diversity of nestbox types and move those that prove unsuccessful. Quite a small change in location or aspect can determine whether birds use a box. Do not use too many of one type, especially tit boxes: multiple options confuse them.
  • Sterilise feeders Remove mouldy seed from feeders and sterilise them regularly to reduce the risk of spreading diseases. Clean them more frequently when there are lots of birds in your garden and/or when you suspect that some are sick – keep an eye out for lethargic birds sitting around with their feathers fluffed up.
  • Deter squirrels Experiment with the position of your feeders so that squirrels cannot jump onto them from a nearby bush or the ground – they will go to remarkable lengths to outwit you. Squirrel baffles are available if the problem persists.