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Attracting birds to your garden

Some members of the team at Hallstone enjoyed taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch weekend, so we thought we’d share some thoughts and ideas to attract birds to your garden and how you may be able to overcome some of the challenges you can face when feeding birds.

What species of birds can I expect to attract?

We were surprised by the variety of birds we found in our gardens here in Yorkshire, which included Long-Tailed Tits, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a Grey Wagtail, but the most common species that were found in gardens in the UK during last year’s Birdwatch were:

  1. House sparrow
  2. Starling
  3. Blackbird
  4. Blue tit
  5. Wood pigeon
  6. Goldfinch
  7. Robin
  8. Great tit
  9. Chaffinch
  10. Long-tailed tit

Did you know?

Though starlings were the second most common bird to be seen in UK gardens during the Birdwatch weekend last year, their numbers have declined 79% since 1979; they’re currently a red-listed bird, meaning the RSPB is urgently looking at reasons for their decline and possible solutions.

When should I feed the birds?

Birds spend a lot of energy finding food, in some cases they require up to 30% of their body weight each day, so while you may think that feeding birds is only necessary in winter, supplementary feeding is important to the health of birds in your garden year-round: 

  • Spring: in breeding season parenting birds will appreciate the additional food and water being available to them, as they spend most of their day flying back and forth with food for their young, so will benefit from having a convenient source of fatty protein.
  • Summer: dry spells can make feeding and finding water difficult, therefore water baths and fatty treats such as mealworms will be a welcome sight.
  • Autumn: birds spend a lot of energy trying to stay warm while they are growing new feathers during shedding in the colder seasons.
  • Winter: frozen ground and water can mean it is difficult for birds to stay hydrated and well-fed. Energy-rich food such as net-free fat or suet balls containing mealworms and fresh seed and nuts are essential.

As well as seed and nuts, it’s good to have natural food for the birds in your garden as some species prefer not to visit feeding stations. Try planting berry or seed-bearing trees and plants such as Hazel, Birch, Sunflowers, Miscanthus or Globe Thistles which as well as producing seed heads (nyjer seed) for birds, will also add a stunning splash of blue to the garden in the summer.

What should I feed garden birds?

As already mentioned, having berry and seed-bearing plants, bushes or trees in the garden is a great way to attract birds and an excellent source of nutrients. Most garden birds will also enjoy food such as sunflower hearts, oats, millet and nyjer seed. Another good source of fatty proteins for birds are mealworms and waxworms, which you can easily stir into fat for ground-feeders or to hang from trees, or leave on bird tables. 

Some people may prefer not to handle live mealworms, but if you do, make sure to remove any dead or discoloured worms as they can cause salmonella poisoning in the birds. You can buy dried mealworms, but make sure they are from a reputable store. They can be rehydrated by leaving them in warm water for a few minutes; you may notice that your feeders empty quickly during breeding season as parent birds will feed them to their young. 

Fruits such as apples, pears and most berries are perfect for birds, just remember that grapes and sultanas are poisonous to dogs, so you may want to avoid feeding these in areas they have access to.

There are many bird seed mixes widely available, but the most common bird seeds and the species they are preferred by are:

Peanuts (suitable for table, hanging feeder or ground feeding) are loved by:

  • Tits: Blue, coal, great, long-tailed tit
  • Chaffinch
  • Greenfinch
  • Wren
  • Great spotted woodpecker
  • Nuthatch
  • Sisken

Nyjer seeds (use in a hanging seed feeder) are loved by:

  • Finches such as Goldfinches
  • Siskins
  • Tree Sparrows

Black sunflower seeds (suitable for table, hanging feeder or ground feeding):

  • Tits
  • Finches
  • House sparrow
  • Nuthatch
  • Wood pigeon
  • Dunnock
  • Brambling

Important notes:

It’s important to purchase peanuts from a reputable seller to ensure they have been tested for aflatoxin; this natural toxin sometimes found in peanuts can kill birds.

Birds can spill a lot of seed from feeders on to the ground attracting larger species such as Blackbirds, Pigeons, Pheasants and Thrush, as well as small ground-feeders such as dunnocks and chaffinches; however, this can result in bald patches of earth if your feeder is positioned over your lawn, so choose your feeding area wisely.

Top tip:

Don’t throw away your leftover boiled potatoes, pasta or rice; as long as they haven’t had any sauce or seasoning added, some birds will happily finish them off for you. You can also feed bacon rind to birds, but make sure it is uncooked and unsalted.

“The squirrels empty my feeders”

Squirrel in caged bird feederWell…people of a certain age will remember the Carling advert with a squirrel negotiating an obstacle course to the bird feeder with the Mission Impossible soundtrack and the fact is that they are intelligent and persistent, so with most squirrel-proofing they tend to find a way in eventually.  

Making access more difficult, by using a squirrel baffle or a feeder style with a cage around it can be a good deterrent, but small squirrels can still squeeze their way into cages if they’re determined enough. Though it means your nuts and seed will probably need topping up more frequently - on hanging feeders especially as they swing from them tipping seed everywhere - there is enjoyment in watching them try to hang on long enough to have their fill.

Our experience is that ‘squirrel-resistant’ is probably a better description for a lot of feeders that claim to be ‘squirrel-proof’, though there could be a product out there that we haven’t tried yet that baffles even the smartest rodent. 

“There are too many cats in my neighbourhood, so I don’t feed the birds”

Some people are worried that they don’t want to attract birds to their garden because there are so many cats in their local area, or have cats themselves. Surprisingly, International Cat Care have said “Only a small proportion of cats develop the 3D skills necessary to catch adult birds”.

There are a few things that the RSPB recommend you can do to prevent cats from catching and killing birds:

If it’s your cat then adding a bell to their collar can be very effective; it’s very important to ensure that the collar is a quick release so that there is no risk of the collar being caught and injuring your pet. It should be a firm fit, but you should be able to fit two fingers comfortably between your cat's collar and its neck. If in doubt about collar fitting, ask your vet for advice.

If you’re worried about your own cat catching birds, a preventative measure can be to keep them indoors when birds are most active - perhaps feeding your cat during this time - an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset.

Hang or place feeders in a clear area that is at least 2m from dense vegetation to make it more difficult for cats to carry out a surprise attack.

Place nest boxes clear of any areas that cats can get close to and if you see a baby bird in the garden, try to keep cats away until the parents have moved the chick away. 

You can read more about preventing cats attacking birds at https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice.

 

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