How to garden for nesting birds

10 ways to encourage birds to take up residence in your garden.

© Stuart Jackson Carter
© Stuart Jackson Carter

“Gardens occupy about 10 per cent of available land area in the UK, and as such provide significant habitat for many birds – about 30 per cent of blackbirds breed in human-occupied sites, for example,” says Carl Barimore, nest-record scheme organiser for the BTO.

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“We all love feeding our birds, but with simple bird-friendly garden management you can also create lots of places for them to nest. In return you’ll gain a much greater understanding of bird behaviour, as well as helping declining species such as house sparrows and starlings.” Here are nine top tips to create some prime avian real estate:

1. Build a house

Gardens don’t usually have much standing dead wood, so nestboxes offer an alternative for cavity-nesting species. However, these birds all have different requirements, so start with two different-sized boxes at either end of your garden.

2. Plant a tree

Small trees such as fruit trees or a sycamore offer great nesting opportunities. Blackbirds may nest in forks in the branches, and goldfinches in the outer canopy.

3. Think thick

Include dense deciduous species such as hawthorn, blackthorn and sea buckthorn – the prickles make ideal cover for species that nest later in the season, such as finches.

4. Keep it messy

Be mindful when tidying during early spring – robins or dunnocks may be nesting in piles of leaves. And some species nest as late as August, so delay the summer pruning.

5. Ivy league

English ivy is an evergreen, so provides brilliant early-season nesting opportunities for robins, dunnocks, blackbirds and wrens. It is fast-growing and will cling to a trellis, wall or tree trunk. Other climbers such as honeysuckle and clematis also provide good nesting foliage.

6. Check the shed

Wrens nest in all sorts of cavities and ledges – be wary of lodgers in plant pots and on shelving.

7. Seek to hide

In early spring, when deciduous trees and shrubs are not in leaf, early nesters such as robins and blackbirds will build a home anywhere that provides good cover, so introduce evergreens such as holly or conifers.

8. Use your walls

Siting a shrub beside a wall will encourage hedgerow-dwelling species such as finches to nest – they will be attracted by the added shelter and cover.

9. Boost the brambles

Unsightly they may be, but brambles and scrambling shrubs such as dog rose are much sought-after by blackcaps and other species that nest low in scrub.

10. Feed and water

Remember to keep your feeders topped up and provide a source of water such as a birdbath.

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Find more about the BTO’s National Nestbox Week