Following the recent annual RSPB Birdwatch (which we also took part in) we thought we’d focus this blog on how best careful garden designing can contribute to our diverse and feathered guest list.
Regarding their basic needs, birds are not so dissimilar from us in that they require only food, water and shelter to survive and even thrive. Providing raised areas are the surest method for increasing the abundance and accessibility of these things, since their elevation mitigates the presence of both predators and potential competition. After all, who decided that that table on the deck is for ‘human dining’ only?
With a little creativity, visiting birds and their diets can become something of a blessing in disguise, in that many species will happily dispose of spoiled food or leftovers for you , (as long as it’s not mouldy as it can cause respiratory problems in birds). Having recently learned to prepare fresh coconut, I learnt that while composting the husks was certainly beneficial to the local biosphere, you could cut out a few million single-celled middle men by feeding it to the birds directly. Add stale bread, old biscuits and surplus cooked rice (I always overestimate portion sizes) to this list and you needn’t ever buy a sack of seed again! However, black sunflower seeds, flax seed and peanuts are excellent general foodstuffs that appeal to a variety of palettes. Seeds appeal to a wide range of birds, from sparrows to finches to collared doves, whilst peanuts are favoured by the tit family. Never use salted or dry roasted peanuts though!
A word on water – the primary need here is ease of access. Most birdbaths are fairly shallow and bordered by a slight rim which not only provides the birds a dry place to stand whilst drinking, but more importantly poses no risk of drowning. If you already possess a fresh water source nearby like a river or pond then a semi-submerged stone can provide both a comfortable and natural platform. Don’t forget to keep the water available throughout the year and to break up any ice that forms in freezing weather.
Shelter is perhaps the easiest since the action itself is, from our perspective, a passive one. The birds themselves will not rely on us for shelter, we can merely ensure its availability. However, building bird boxes is a fun activity that helps to solidify your relationship with the birds of your garden, as well imbue useful DIY skills. They are also incredibly simple to build and can be composed of largely recycled timber. Hedgerows deserve mention as one of the most aesthetic, sustainable and rewarding forms of bird shelter because, whilst it’s detritus can provide useful materials for nesting, the hedge itself often becomes a nesting site, not to mention an autumnal pantry of sorts once its fruit comes to bear.
On the subject of our planting choices, good garden designing means that you provide vantage points for birds to survey the space you’re trying to attract them to – without this birds will never risk venturing into your territory since it will remain largely mysterious to them. Make sure these vantage points are as organic as possible, and if you haven’t room to plant trees, consider decorating your bare fences with clematis, ivy, honeysuckle or another climbing plants and consider planting more shrubs too. Plants can provide food as well as shelter and a perching point – Pyracantha, Holly and Cotoneaster, for example, all have berries that birds enjoy. By diversifying the flora of your garden you’ll also attract a greater variety of insects which, as you can imagine, will provide another food source to the birds themselves.