The RSPB's Great British Bird Watch took place over the weekend. Did you take part? I've signed up in previous years and was keen to get involved again this year (and what else can we currently do on a chilly Sunday morning in Gloucestershire except sit in bed and count birds?).
On Saturday night my husband and I slept out in the garden office for a change of scenery (like glamping in the garden - a weekend away but still at home). This meant we could wake up and sit snuggled up on the sofa bed with our cup of coffee and a pair and binoculars, counting the birds as they flew in and out of the garden.
I have a bird bath and two bird feeders which have been set up in my line of vision as I sit at my office desk. We also sometimes throw out kitchen scraps to attract more birds (leftover rice and the odd bit of bread). The bird bath is very DIY. A plant pot saucer filled with water and set on top of an old birch log. It can be quite distracting when I'm meant to be working but I love it anyway. Sometimes you need a distraction from work and watching the sparrows, blackbirds and even a little robin messing about in the shallow water makes me feel quite content.
Let the Bird Watch Begin
During our count the birds failed to show up en-masse as hoped. The usual horde of mischievous sparrows dwindled to four and the robin appeared for barely a second. We are usually visited by both blue and great tits, but on Sunday morning only the great tits showed up. Perhaps the starlings hanging about on my neighbour's roof were scaring the birds off. Or maybe, as my husband pointed out, it was just too cold. The bird bath was frozen solid.
So at the end of our hour spent keenly watching for birds in the garden, the results were not nearly as impressive as hoped. I feel that I've let the neighbourhood down as we usually have what I hope is a fairly healthy garden bird population. A few weeks ago I even spotted some gold finches perched on top of some Echinacea seed heads. The gold finches failed to make an appearance on Sunday.
My only hope is that some of my neighbours are equally keen and do what they can to encourage the birds. Perhaps that was the problem – they were too busy feasting at a neighbouring property to decide to head over to mine.
What can you do for the birds?
There are numerous ways to encourage birds into your garden. The key is to create a mini-ecosystem to provide them with their basic needs.
They need shelter. They need food. They need water. They need a safe space away from predators. They need somewhere cosy to create their nests and they need nesting materials to build their nests with. To help them along the way you can do the following:
Don’t use pesticides in your garden. This is possibly the most important thing you can do. Pesticide use is linked to the decline of not only our native wildlife but also the degradation of our soil and water resources and through this the food we eat too. For more information have a look at this Friends of the Earth article here.
Plant a tree and as many shrubs as you can to provide nesting space, high up perches and look outs. If your garden is too small for large shrubs and trees utilise any fences or ledges (but be mindful of cats).
Feed the birds. Put out bird feeders filled with seeds and fat balls. Do some research and fill your feeders with seeds that will keep your garden birds happy. You can find out what birds eat what here.
Put up a bird nesting box. Be sure to site them out of the way of cats and bigger birds such as magpies. Try to avoid planting them in overly exposed situations such as direct afternoon sunlight. For details on how to make your own and where to place them have a look at this helpful page on the RSPB website.
Provide nesting material. Hang bundles of straw, twigs, twine, shredded up bits of old cotton shirts (ensure that they are 100% cotton), and grass cuttings for the birds to pick from.
Incorporate as many plants into your garden as you can and don't cut down dead seed heads until new growth starts in the Spring. Old seed heads are a valuable food source for birds and lots of insects. Diversity is key to attracting a wide range of wildlife.
Put out a bird bath. An upturned plant tray is sufficient, or you could even use a dog bowl. It is helpful to place this slightly higher up to keep them safe from cats. If you do place a bird bath on the ground make sure that it is placed in a position where cats can't sneak up on it (and hedgehogs will be happy with a water source that they can reach).
If you want help creating a wildlife friendly space in your garden give Wild Edge Garden Design a call. We're always happy to talk through any ideas you may have and are always interested in what other people are doing in their own gardens.