How to create a bird friendly garden


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Difficulty rating: Low

This task is fairly straightforward.

There’s something quintessentially British about hearing birds singing in the trees and seeing them flit about, so why not make your garden a haven for them all year round? With a little work you’ll soon be watching their fascinating behaviour and marvelling at their striking colours, so why not follow the steps below and make your garden the perfect home for our little feathered friends?

Tools for the job:

Step 1: Feeding the birds

Feeding birds in the garden is a popular activity with over half of all adults in the UK doing it. By feeding birds in your garden you’ll not only get the chance to see these wonderful creatures in action, but you’ll also be playing a valuable role in helping your local birds survive. Birds benefit from a helping hand all year round. During the winter birds value high energy foods which can help them survive cold weather but also during the spring and summer months when they benefit from protein rich foods to help them prepare for and raise their young.

The first step to attracting more birds to your garden is to make them feel welcome. Start by setting up feeding areas. You can make birds feel safer by positioning dining stations around 2m from cover so that they have a clear view of their surroundings, and a safe place to retreat to. Try to put your hanging feeders in a place where they can't be reached by cats.

Not all birds will feed from hanging feeders and some species prefer to feed from the ground. Ground feeding trays are an excellent way to cater for these birds. You should set these up in a nice open area so birds can view them clearly and to help prevent them getting cornered by predators. 

Once you start feeding the birds you should try to do so regularly as they will quickly become reliant on your help. Natural food shortages can occur at any time, so by feeding the birds in your garden all year round you'll give them a better change of surviving periods of shortage whenever they occur. This will provide birds with the energy they need to survive a harsh winter, and help them breed and raise healthy young birds in the spring. Birds are most active at dawn and dusk, so it's best to make food available in the morning and evening.

Birds need high energy (high fat) foods during cold winter weather to maintain their fat reserves and survive the frosty nights. Make sure you use only good quality food, and be aware that smaller birds will struggle to eat seed mixtures containing split peas, beans, dried rice or lentils – these are only really suitable for larger species.

Always adjust the quantity given to the demand, and never allow uneaten food to accumulate in or around the feeders as it can harbour disease. Once you establish a feeding routine, try not to change it as the birds will become used to it and time their visits to your garden accordingly.

Step 2. Put up a bird box

Bird boxes are a great way of encouraging birds to visit your garden year after year. You should position your bird box at least 1.5m above ground level in a quiet part of your garden away from any feeding stations. This will help make its occupants feel safe. You should also make sure it's not in direct sunlight or an exposed location where it could be affected by bad weather. If you have the space, you could try arranging several bird boxes, all with different sized holes that will make them suitable for species of differing sizes.

Once your bird box is occupied make sure it isn’t disturbed – as excited as they may be to have birds nesting in it, young children in particular should be kept away and told not to interfere with it. You should only clean your bird box out if you’re certain it is unoccupied, making sure to do so between October and January as instructed by law under the UK Countryside Act 1981.

Step 3: Planting in your garden to attract birds

Birds will also be attracted to your garden based on the plants, shrubs and trees that are growing in it – not only will they provide places for them to shelter during bad weather, they may also choose to stay and make a nest there. Some varieties of plants will even provide food for birds – not only for the berries they grow, but also because they will attract insects that the birds can use to feed their chicks in the spring.

Hedges are a great way of enticing birds into your garden. Holly in particular is a favourite – although it is slow to grow, its dense nature and prickly leaves make it perfect for birds, as it will provide them with shelter during the winter months, protection from natural predators, and red berries they can feed on.

Other alternatives include Hawthorn, which can grow as either a hedge or a small tree, shrubs such as Photinia, and climbers including Ivy which won’t grow out far, but will provide a lot of cover for birds as they grow vertically against a fence or wall, making them perfect for gardens with limited space. Another reason to choose Ivy is that its berries ripen later than many other plants, providing the birds in your garden with a natural food source further into the colder months of the year.

Top tips:

  • Some birds prefer to feed from the ground, so it's always worth scattering a little bird feed onto a ground feeding tray.
  • If you introduce a bird bath into your garden make sure the water is at least 2.5cm deep, and that you place it in an open space away from where cats may hide.

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