Attracting garden birds: what can gardeners do?
No matter what species you’re thinking about, it’s always about shelter, food and breeding space.
One of the great pleasures of being in the garden is watching the birds that visit it.
But it also works the other way around. In densely populated North-Western Europe, gardens are vital for the well-being and survival of birds.
In spring and summer, gardens provide birds with the essential nesting places, natural ones or artificial nest boxes, and food for the young.
In autumn and winter, migrating or overwintering birds find food and shelter in gardens. A bird friendly winter garden can make the difference between life and death for some birds.
Water is an essential element in a bird friendly garden.
Attracting garden birds: 3 factors
Last New Year, I found out again how important conifers can be for birds. Just after twelve o’clock at night, as the fireworks burst out, I noticed scared starlings flying from one conifer to the other, looking for shelter.
Apart from conifers, you can also plant other evergreen shrubs and trees. Like Ilex aquifolium (English holly), Viburnum tinus (laurustinus) or Prunus laurocerasus ‘Rotundifolia’ (cherry laurel).
The cherry laurel seems to be detested by some garden specialists. But in my experience, it’s a good hedge plant which gives me and garden birds some privacy. And the flowers attract insects.
As a gardener, attracting garden birds by providing food is a good idea. But what do they eat? Which plant or other element should you consider?
If you spot a bird in your garden and wonder what his menu looks like, I have a few clues for you.
Firstly: watch where it’s foraging. On the patio? In the trees? In your borders? On the lawn? This tells you something about their food.
Another clue is: look at his bill.
- An insect eater has a neat, compact bill which gives him the opportunity to catch small insects.
So select insect attracting plants. Provide shelter for overwintering insects by avoiding to prune perennials in autumn. And and of course: don’t use pesticides.
- The seed specialist is equipped with a broad bill, which is ideal for eating seeds.
So select plants with tasty seeds and present meals on the feeding table.
- A hooked bill tells you your guest is a bird of prey. He tears apart the flesh of small mammals.
A sparrowhawk in the sky is likely to inspect your garden for prey.
- Special case. Probably not present in your garden. But I was lucky to see them in California: nectar eating birds like hummingbirds. With their long beak and tongue they reach the nectar where even insects cannot reach.
- Some birds are allrounders. They have an all-purpose bill, like the blackbird.
Attracting gardens birds is also thinking about next generations. When you want to support garden birds in raising a family, you see to it that they can build a nest. Don’t be too tidy. Leave twigs, moss and leaves in your borders and corners. Perfect building material!
Some birds like to make a nest in an evergreen or compact shrub or hedge. Our cherry laurel and privet are popular.
Perhaps you want to provide your feathered friends with a nest box. The best time to install a nest box is in autumn. Then you give the birds the opportunity to get familiar with it. And sometimes they use the nest box during cold nights, too!