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Wildlife garden

How to make a bird friendly garden

 

Everyone enjoys getting that little bit closer to nature and what better way to do it than by creating a wildlife garden where both you and nature benefit? Hopefully this page will give you some ideas on how to make your garden more wildlife friendly, and will help you get a little closer to our feathered friends while giving them a helping hand.

 

By no means do you have to have all the elements mentioned here in your garden to make it attractive to wildlife, but the more you can the more visitors you’re likely to attract. Birds in particular, being so adaptable and mobile are often the easiest to attract into a garden with very little effort required; finding food is usually their main goal.

 

1. Providing food

 

This can be achieved in many ways from putting out bird feeders to creating wild areas in your garden where birds and other wildlife can forage to find food naturally.

 

A rough grass area at the end of your garden can provide an ideal foraging habitat for birds and mammals as well as a vital feeding station for other wildlife such as bumblebees and other invertebrates. A deadwood pile can also be placed in this area to create a minibeast home and can be easily hidden from sight by the long grass. This area could also be seeded with a mix of native and non-native meadow species to make it more attractive to the eye and provide you with a range of beautiful flowers throughout the whole summer.

 

Bird tables/feeders can come in all shapes and sizes but so long as the birds can get to the food they won’t really mind what sort you get. There is also now a wide range of different bird seed mixes available from most shops, so here is a rough guide as to what likes what.

 

• Small seed (eg millet) – Dunnocks (Hedge sparrows), House sparrows, Finches and Reed        buntings.

• Whole peanuts – Tits, Greenfinches, House sparrows, Wood peckers and Siskins.

•      Crushed or grated peanuts – Robins, Dunnocks and Wrens

• Sunflower seeds – Blackbirds, Robins, Tits and Greenfinches

• Fat balls/cakes – Most garden birds will take advantage of these especially in the winter

• Niger seeds – Goldfinches and Siskins

• Live food – (Mealworms) Blackbirds, Robins, Tits and Starlings

 

It is worth mentioning that if you do decide to provide food for the birds in your garden it is best to do so throughout the year as regular visitors become accustomed to the easy pickings provided and can become dependent on them, especially in the winter when natural food supplies are hard to find. If the supply of food suddenly stops it can have fatal consequences. If you do choose to no longer feed your garden birds with supplementary food it is best to wean them off gradually by steadily reducing the amount of food provided over a number of weeks so that the birds have a chance to find alternative food supplies.

 

2. Water

 

A garden pond is also a great way to encourage more wildlife into your garden as it not only provides an ideal habitat for aquatic and amphibious species but also a year round water source for birds and mammals. However it is best to avoid placing fish into a wildlife pond as they can decimate the aquatic life and cause the water to become cloudy and full of algae. It is important to break the ice in bird baths and ponds during the winter to allow wildlife to access the water. Or you can place a light ball (eg dog’s toy/pingpong ball) or cork in the water as this will usually stop it from freezing over completely as the lightest breeze will move it in the water. DO NOT use salt to prevent the water in bird baths from freezing as this can be fatal to birds if ingested and can also cause feather damage.

 

Although ponds can be a hazard to small children, a low fence can be placed around the edge to restrict access to any overly inquisitive children.

 

3. Shelter and Nesting

 

All creatures need shelter from the elements especially during the cold winter months as well as places to safely rear a family during the breeding season. The most common place for birds to take shelter in a garden is often in a hedgerow or other thicket type area as these usually resemble the naturally sheltered areas they would find in the wild. If you don’t have a hedge or any large bushes or trees in your garden, a relatively quick and easy way to create this type of area is by building/buying a garden trellis and planting some fast growing climber plants around the base of it such as ivy.

 

As for nesting there are various different types of bird boxes you can buy or make. Just visit your local garden centre and they should have a good range for you to choose from. Bear in mind though what sort of birds you have in your garden as some species can be quite picky about where they nest. If you do decide to make your own the RSPB have a very good set of nest box plans which you can download from the link below.

 

RSPB Nest box blueprints/designs:   http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/sites/wt-main.live.drupal.precedenthost.co.uk/files/files/Wildlife%20Gardening/BasicallyBoxes-part1.pdf

 

The position of your nest box is important. Most boxes are put up 2-5m above the ground facing between North and East to maximise light but avoid the worst of the weather, however this is not always the case.  So long as your box is sheltered from the prevailing wind and rain, and not in full sunlight all day it will be fine. It is usually best not to put nest boxes too close together as this can cause aggressive behaviour and territorial fights to occur, except in the case of some species such as House sparrows which like to nest in colonies. So it is worth thinking about what species your box is likely to attract before you put it up. Don’t place your nest box too close to your feeding area as the high level s of disturbance can result in abandoned nests. Nest boxes should be put up towards the end of January so that they are ready when birds start looking for nesting sites during February. Birds will often use nest boxes over winter as well to shelter in, so it is important to clean them out at the start of the winter to avoid any spread of disease and parasites.

 

4. Dangers

 

o Cooking fat

 

If you are making your own fat cakes to feed your garden birds during the winter it is best to avoid using cooking fat as it is often mixed with meat juices which can be very bad if it gets smeared on the bird’s feathers and creates a breeding ground for bacteria. Also depending on what cooked meat it has come from (eg Gammon or pork) it often has a high salt content which can make it dangerous to birds.

However using pure fat (e.g. Lard) and beef suet is fine.

 

o Mesh and netting

 

The mesh and netting around fat balls and other feeder food can be harmful to birds and should be removed as they can easily get their legs and wings caught.

 

o Windows

 

Attaching stickers to your windows (much like car stickers) can help to avoid any of your garden birds flying into them and getting hurting.

 

o Low feeders and nest boxes

 

Bird feeders should be placed above cat height, and away from areas where cats can other predators can easily jump to (e.g. away from window ledges). You can also use slippery table stands (e.g. metal) which are difficult to climb to prevent cats and rats being able to climb up onto your bird table. Planting spiny plants (eg holly) around the bases of these types of feeders can also help with this problem.

 

o Nest box defence

 

Garden nest boxes are often raided by squirrels and Woodpeckers. One way to prevent this is to attach a metal plate with a hole through it around the entrance hole of your box to prevent it from being enlarged and the nestlings being reached. Also it is best not to place a bird perch directly outside the nest box hole as this will only aid the raiders in their attempts rather than help the nesting bird.

 

o Slug pellets

 

Please avoid using slug pellets in your garden as they can be as lethal to birds if ingested as they are to slugs and hedgehogs. Also by removing slugs and snails from your garden you are removing a vital natural food source from your birds and other garden wildlife.

 

If you do have a slug/snail problem in your garden try making your own eco-friendly slug bait from raw oats or bran, which you can either place in small heaps or scattered around vulnerable plants. The greedy slugs usually become bloated through over indulgence, leaving them dehydrated and easy pickings for the birds.