If you’ve ever stopped to listen to the melodic call of a robin, or watched the acrobatic antics of a flock of long-tailed tits, you’ll probably agree that birds are pretty special – and our gardens would be much duller without them.
But it’s easy to take our wild birds for granted. Many species of garden and farmland birds are in decline, with loss of nesting sites, dwindling food sources and changes in farming methods – such as removal of hedgerows – creating challenges.
The good news is that there’s plenty we can do to help our feathered friends – and our gardens are increasingly becoming vital habitats for all kinds of bird species.
Offering food is one of the best ways to help. During winter, supplies of natural food sources – such as nuts, seeds and berries – begin to dwindle, and snow and ice make it difficult for birds to find the food they need.
In just one cold night, a bird can lose up to 10 per cent of its body weight – so it's essential for birds to feed well during the day, every day.
There are many different foods birds like, and if you offer a wide variety you’ll see more birds in your garden.
One of the easiest foods to find – but make sure you offer natural peanuts from a bird food supplier, as salted, roasted or flavoured nuts can be harmful to birds. Peanuts will attract blue tits, great tits and long-tailed tits – and, if you’re lucky, a nuthatch or woodpecker.
Sunflower seed attracts dunnocks, blackbirds and greenfinches. Or to encourage brightly coloured goldfinches to your garden, try offering nyger seed. Nyger seed may also attract siskins – small winter-visiting finches with yellow-green plumage and a black cap.
And other fat-based bars are a good choice as they provide birds with a high-energy snack to help them survive during cold weather. Make sure you remove any nylon mesh bags first, though, as these can entangle birds and cause injuries.
Some are suitable for wild birds. Cooked potato, cooked rice and grated cheese are excellent, as is pastry – cooked or uncooked. Apples and pears are very popular with blackbirds, thrushes and fieldfares.
Where would you like to sit?
Chaffinches and dunnocks prefer to feed off the ground, while robins and blackbirds are happier dining at a bird table – so offering food in different locations is important if you want to attract a variety of birds.
There are some foods to avoid, as they can be harmful to birds. Milk, desiccated coconut, and salty or mouldy food can all be harmful. Dried pulses, uncooked rice and dry pet food should also be avoided.
Just add water!
Water is just as important as food – and during winter, natural sources of water may become frozen. A wildlife pond is an excellent water-source for birds – just make sure there are some strategically placed stones so that birds can reach the water, and in very cold weather ponds can freeze over so you may need to break the ice.
No pond? You don’t need to buy a fancy birdbath for birds to drink from. Any watertight container with a depth of up to 10cm will do the job; ideally it should have sloping sides, for ease of access – or put some stones into it to allow smaller birds to reach shallow patches of water.
Once you start to offer food and water, it’s important to keep those feeders topped up – birds will soon begin to rely on your garden as a source of food. And then all you need to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the sight and sound of the beautiful birds in your garden!