House Sparrow

How To Garden For The Birds

Create a haven for birds in your garden to help their numbers increase

If you missed taking part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch in January there is still time to get your kids involved in The Big Schools’ Birdwatch which is running until the 14th February. This event is designed for schools but it can easily be adapted for other groups outside school from chess clubs to sports clubs, brownies & cubs. Register your group online with the RSPB then just spend one hour making a note of the birds you have seen & enter your results onto their website. There are plenty of tips & ideas on the RSPB website such as making your own bird treats & creating a feeding area to attract birds in advance plus ways to make the experience more interesting for the kids & how to analyse the results you have got. This survey is not just about identifying & counting birds but is an exercise in observing how differently birds behave & interact.

Starling Feeding Fledgling or Baby

The Big Schools Birdwatch has been going for over 10 years & The Big Garden Birdwatch is in its 35th year, it is the world’s biggest wildlife survey with nearly 590,000 people taking part last year. The results from these surveys are used to build up a picture of the number & different types of birds that have been spotted in the UK during these surveys. Although there will be fluctuations in these results from year to year, the sheer volume of recordings over a long time period will highlight any trends in populations. Unfortunately results from recent years highlight the decline in many of our common garden birds such as sparrows & starlings whose numbers dropped again last year by 17% & 16% & overall have dropped by 63% & 82% respectively since 1979. These observations give the RSPB & us, as gardeners or bird lovers, the opportunity to try & make a difference.

As with many stories of populations declining there are a number of factors involved which mainly revolve around loss of nesting sites & shortage of the correct food types. Studies into the house sparrow show that chicks born in an urban setting are less likely to survive than those in more rural settings. This is mainly due to a poor diet lacking the seeds & insects that they require to put on weight whilst in the nest & to survive once they have fledged.

Goldfinch Feeding on Thistle

You may not be able to provide the ideal nesting or feeding conditions for a wide range of different birds but there are some things you can do in your garden to help those that do visit.

  • Carry out your own birdwatch & see what birds visit your garden.
  • Do a little research & find out what they like to eat & where they like to nest.
  • Put up some bird feeders with a range of foods, try a good quality seed mix in one & peanuts in a mesh feeder in another then perhaps treats of fat balls or mealworms & don’t forget some water. Chat to your neighbours about what birds they get in their garden, you may be able to attract new species by putting out different food, for instance goldfinches love nyjer seeds.
  • Try putting up some bird boxes, under the eaves is a good place; there are different designs to suit different species of birds. Some birds like sparrows will also nest in hedges, thick shrubs or climbers such as honeysuckle or large clematis.

Peacock Butterfly

  • Increasing the insect life in your garden will attract insect feeders like wrens & pied wagtails. Try to garden organically without the use of pesticides & herbicides, leave the birds to eat your greenfly! Provide areas for insects to live such as a pile of rotting logs & leave a small piece of garden to grow a bit wild; hawthorn, ivy, brambles & nettles provide food, shelter & breeding sites for a huge range of insects. Plant species that are wildlife friendly like single flowered plants rather than double flowered which may lack pollen & nectar or be difficult to access.
  • Plant seed bearing plants & leave the seed heads on over winter for birds to feed on. Goldfinches love thistles but you can grow attractive plants like sunflowers, asters & golden rod to name but a few.
If we take the time to think about our environment, try to be a little less tidy in our gardening habits & increase its diversity; we can all make a difference!
Julie Parker
My interest in gardening & wildlife stemmed from childhood days spent working in the garden with my parents & reading books on anything from robins to giraffes. As time has moved on these influences have stayed with me inspiring the creation my own garden & leading to interests in fish keeping & the natural world around me. I still love to read & hope that the knowledge I gain will make topical reading through these articles.