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Feeding birds

I'm often asked how come i have so many birds visiting my garden.  Well, there weren't always so many birds and hopefully after reading this you'll realise that you can do things to increase the chances of them coming in to your garden too. 

In the beginning...

When we moved into our house back in 2005, the garden wasn't very wildlife friendly at all. There were no worms, and the only birds that came into the garden were pigeons, sparrows and chaffinches. There was a huge leylandii hedge across the bottom and cypress hedges down each side.

 

We took down the two long cypress hedges, widening the garden by about 6 feet and took down the leylandii hedge letting much more light too. Our neighbours were concerned that we were cutting down all the trees for the birds, which is generally true but mostly those trees were used by pigeons and magpies and other birds prefer less dense trees. And behind these trees were birch trees, sycamore, cherry, hawthorn and a huge spruce tree.

Providing cover...


 

Birds especially like some tree cover while on feeders, so planting small trees or bushes near where you want to watch them is a good idea.  I planted my hedge in view of my window so I have a perfect view during the winter months when i like to draw inside. 

Another reason for providing cover is that Sparrowhawks are always on the look for little birds in our garden so it's good to have somewhere they can hide.  We knew we wanted a safe route for the birds to move along the garden too as it is very long but it needed to be deciduous as we get strong winds in the winter. It's also ended up meaning that in recent years woodpeckers make their way along the hedge and fence to get at the fat feeders.

Choosing native trees...

We chose native trees that won't grow too big or are easy to cut.  In 2008 we planted some 50cm high bareroot crab apple, rowan, hazel and hawthorn from a nursery and a beech grown from seeds found in the Penicuik Estate. Now 11 years later we have a lovely mixed hedgerow that the birds hop about in, big hazel bushes that our rabbits love to eat when we prune them and a rowan tree that attracts thrushes in the autumn.

Choosing feeders and food...

Different birds like to feed in different ways. Chaffinches, Dunnocks, Blackbirds, Robins, Thrushes like to feed on the ground. Sparrows, tits, finches like to feed in trees. So we hang a variety of feeders in the hedge so the birds have cover when they feed - this encourages them to stay a bit longer too.  We have a mix of feeders for different types of food.

Below I've listed the feeders we have, the food we put out and the birds we've seen on those feeders to give you an idea of what is likely to be attracted to what. 

Type of feeder type of seed type of bird

RSPB Ultimate Easy-clean® nyjer feeder

nyjer seed sisken, goldfinch

RSPB Classic easy-clean seed feeder - medium

and

Squirrel Buster medium

RSPB No-mess sunflower mix bird seed

redpol, goldfinch, bullfinch, sparrows, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, greenfinch, sisken, robin, dunnock, starling, brambling

RSPB Ultimate suet feeder

 

RSPB Super suet cakes

long-tailed tits, woodpeckers, starlings, blue tits

Classic easy-clean small nut & nibble feeder

and

a squirrel proof feeder

buggy nibbles

long-tailed tits, blue tits,

 

RSPB I love Robins feeder

Dried Mealworms

robins, magpies, blackbirds

wire ground feeder

Dried Mealworms, ground mix, raisins, chopped apples

chaffinches, blackbirds, fieldfare, thrush, dunnocks, bramblings

 

I buy a lot of bird food - the feeders can be emptied in about 3 days.  I always buy food from the RSPB shop because they don't fill it with "filler" stuff that isn't so good for the birds and the profits go to helping our native wildlife.  This also means you don't end up with lots of food all over the ground because the birds will sort through for the best bits - especially coal tits who will just chuck out anything they don't want! They usually have special deals on at various times of the year so if you are lucky you can manage to always buy when its on special offer. 

Providing water...

The other thing that is always quoted as a good thing to have in your garden is a pond.  We've been trying to put one in our garden for ages but the garden is on a steep slope so it's taking quite a bit of underwork to secure it well enough.  Then my husband had a mountain biking accident in April which has put a halt to all garden projects involving any lifting and digging.  So in my impatience I bought a large plastic tray - the sort that you can buy for putting in the bottom of ponds for pond plants - and I've put that at the top of my garden.  Mostly because I wanted to encourage frog, toads, newts to come eat the slugs if I'm honest! But today I had the delight of watching two sparrows having a bath in it (despite it being minus 2 this morning), and a robin having a drink (not sure about drinking sparrow bathwater myself, but the robin seemed OK with it).  So it just goes to show that you don't need a big garden with a pond and big trees.  A plastic tray and some bushes in large pots could be just as good for the wildlife.

So if you want to encourage more birds into your garden, you need to consider adding some trees/bushes for them to perch on/hide in; provide feeders for different types of birds; provide food for different types of birds, and some water. Hopefully this will lead to lots of lovely birds visiting your garden.

If you need more information on the different birds, feeders and food - have a look on the RSPB website for lots of useful info.

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