Getting Wild Birds into Your Garden: Nesting and Nurturing.
Why is one garden full of wild birds whilst its neighbour gets no feathered visitors at all?
It’s all about offering birds what they need and making them feel safe and welcome.
If you’ve been following the advice in Part 1 of this series for a couple of weeks and putting out food and water every day you should have some birds coming to feed in your garden by now.
But are they treating your garden more like a fast food joint than a home? Do they eat, drink and leave?
In this article, we are going to show you ways to fix that and get wild birds nesting and raising families in your garden.
Birds won’t feel at home in your garden if they are exposed to constant threat from predators.
Many of our native creatures will eat birds and their chicks and eggs. These include foxes, sparrow hawks, magpies and even hedgehogs. This is nature. Though it may be hard to watch a sparrow hawk taking a blue tit, the sparrow hawk needs a meal too.
The real predator problem comes from cats.
The RSPB estimates that there are around 9 million cats in the UK. A cat will kill an average of 30 birds each year. It’s horrifying in total.
So here are our top tips on keeping your garden birds safe from cats.
- Keep feeders in a position where the birds can see what’s around them. This will give cats less opportunity to creep up on feeding birds. It will help the birds spot an approaching sparrow hawk too.
- Keep feeders away from low undergrowth, which is a favourite lurking-place for cats waiting to pounce.
- Don’t feed birds on the ground. Ground feeders will eat from a bird table and be safer up there.
- If you have a cat, fit a bell to its collar. The cat will hate it but the birds will be grateful.
- Keep your cat well fed, then it won’t hunt with such determination.
- Get an ultrasonic cat scarer. These seem to work quite well to deter cats, without disturbing other wildlife.
- My personal favourite – get yourself a high-power water pistol. Cats will quickly learn to avoid your garden after a few squirtings. It doesn’t harm the cat, and it’s such fun!
An old house in a big, well-established garden will offer plenty of natural nesting sites for the birds who are coming to feed there.
But newer homes, with smaller gardens and few old trees or hedgerows, offer less opportunity for birds to set up home.
Nesting boxes are the answer.
Like bird feeders, different birds need different boxes so you will need a selection.
- Hole Entrance Bird Boxes. Tits, sparrows, flycatchers, nuthatches and starlings will use bird feeders with a hole for the entrance. This is because they could naturally nest in crevices or holes in trees. Different species prefer different-sized holes, anything from a tiny 25mm for a blue tit to 45mm for a starling.
- Open Fronted Nesting Boxes. These are used by birds who generally nest in more open sites, on ledges or in trees. Open front nest box users include robins, wrens, blackbirds and thrushes. It’s vital that you place these boxes in a tucked-away place, where they can’t be easily seen by predators and are protected from the elements. Climbing plants like ivy make a great cover for these boxes.
- Swallow/Swift Nesting Box. Swallows, house martins and swifts are having a rough time of it in the UK. One of their favourite nesting places is in the gaps under the eaves of houses. But super-insulated modern houses don’t have gaps under the eaves, so these birds are finding it more difficult to find homes. Swallow boxes help with this. You can see they are a completely different shape to other bird boxes with a “letterbox” entrance, specially adapted to this group of birds. Place them high up on a wall under the eaves and out of direct midday or afternoon sun.
Introduce birds to your nesting boxes by putting feeders near to them. Don’t be disappointed if they don’t get occupied in the first year. Many birds start looking for a nesting site as early as January, so it can take time for your boxes to get tenants.
If after 2 years you’ve still got no takers it might be worth having a think about whether your boxes are in the right place. Read our full guide to where to place your nesting boxes here.
Gardening for Birds
It’s great to offer birds extra food and water and to provide them with nest boxes. But you can take things to the next level by creating natural food sources and habitat for birds in your garden.
Once you do this, they won’t just be visiting you, the birds will have moved in permanently.
- Grow your own bird food. As well as buying bird food, think about growing some of the plants that birds love to eat. Anything with berries, seeds or fruit will go down well. You may not have room for an apple tree, but even a balcony can be home to a raspberry cane or a few strawberry plants. Get used to the idea of sharing your fruit with the birds! For more on growing your own bird food here’s a great article from Gardeners World Magazine.
- Provide some cover. Birds are out there in all weathers and will much appreciate a bit of shelter from sun, rain and predators. Trees, hedges, shrubs and climbing plants are ideal for offering cover. Birds need shelter all year round so although many of us (including me!) might be keen to cut down ugly old conifer hedges, think twice. They are evergreen and do provide great shelter in the winter.
- Put in a wildlife pond. We’re not suggesting that you get rid of your birdbath. But a pond will bring all sorts of new wildlife into your garden, including lots of bugs and insects that your birds will eat. A wildlife pond can be tiny: even a bucket of water planted up with the right things can do the job. With a medium-sized pond (say 8 feet across) you may even start to attract some water birds. We’ve had ducks and moorhens visiting our pond which is about this size.
- Keep the lawn natural. We’ve all seen birds pecking about in the lawn for grubs and worms, especially after it’s been raining. You may even put bird food on the ground. Either way, if birds are feeding on your lawn you need to avoid treating it with harmful chemicals. Pesticides on the lawn will get into the food chain and can be toxic to wild birds. So learn to love the odd dandelion!
- Don’t damage Nests and Nesting Sites. If you have old trees in your garden, think twice about cutting them down. They are sure to provide nesting sites for many birds. If you have hedges, don’t keep them too tightly trimmed. And never prune a hedge during the nesting season, March to August. This could be illegal and get you a hefty fine. If you don’t have trees or hedges in your garden think about planting some. Even a small tree or shrub can create a natural nesting site.
- If you plant only one thing. If you plant only one thing to attract birds, make it an ivy. Ivy can grow from a pot or in the ground. It is fast-growing and will turn a blank wall into a wildlife sanctuary in just months. It’s evergreen, so provides shelter all year round and even nesting sites if you can let it grow big enough. And mature ivy will be covered in berries that birds will love to eat in the winter.
However big or small your outside space you can have the pleasure of sharing it with wild birds when you provide food, water and shelter.
Attracting birds doesn’t need to cost a fortune, but it may take some time. You have to be patient and consistent in providing the things they need if you want birds to visit.
For more information on wild British birds visit the RSPB website.
And if you have any comments, questions or suggestions we would love to hear them. Leave us a comment below.