The joy of birdwatching: How to attract more garden birds
One of the highlights of moving to the country is the variety of birdlife in your garden. Last year the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, the largest bird survey in the world, found that the humble sparrow was the most likely bird to be seen hopping around, followed by the starling and the blackbird. Waxwings, chiffchaffs and robins are also thriving, but starlings and greenfinches are in decline, with the turtle dove now an endangered species in Britain. We can all help to give bird populations a boost, here's how.
Food. Cold winters can kill a lot of birds through starvation, especially smaller species, like robins, wrens and blue tits. The range of seed mixes to choose from can be mind-boggling, so buy one that includes sunflower seeds, canary seed, hemp and husk-free oats. Some birds are choosy. Tits and greenfinches love peanuts and sunflower seeds and goldfinches can’t resist nyjer seed. Most garden birds love sunflower hearts and fat balls are popular in the colder months. Prowling predators like cats use low shrubbery as cover before pouncing, so position your feeder carefully. Bacteria from old food can kill birds, so keep bird tables and feeders clean.
Water. A supply of clean, unfrozen water is just as important as food, both for drinking and bathing to keep feathers healthy. The RSPB advises using a sloping bath with water 2.5cm-10cm deep, which allows different species to bathe in comfort. Adding a flat stone or two helps birds hop in and out.
Plants. Shelter in the form of shrubs, trees and climbers is vital for all birds, particularly blue tits, thrushes and wrens. Hedges of hawthorn, holly, dog rose and honeysuckle also provide tasty berry treats.
Nesting. Dozens of species spend the winter looking for nesting boxes for their spring chicks, so put up new ones as soon as you can. Take down existing boxes, remove any old nests and rinse the boxes with boiling water. Give birds a helping hand with nest-making by putting out extra nesting material for them to grab. Fill a terracotta pot with wool scraps, pet hair or feathers to give them a helping hand.