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How to attract birds to your garden
Birds will visit your garden if there’s plenty of food available, so the first thing to do is get your seed and peanut feeders up and running. Then you need to work on providing natural food, cover and even nesting sites.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jays scatter-hoard acorns, hazelnuts and peanuts in gardens, burying them in flowerbeds and lawns. They prefer areas with mature trees, especially oaks.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.