Encouraging birds

Short version:

Spring is when you want to encourage small birds into the garden. Most nesting garden birds feed their chicks protein so they will hunt out and devour the population of bugs that have been destroying your plants. You can attract birds with food, water or shelter. It’s a great thing to interest the kids and to help them learn about wildlife.

I am very new to the wildlife side of the gardening. I spent the first year in our new home (with our first proper garden) digging up the barren flagstone wasteland, laying turf, building structures and trying to establish lots of new plants. You can see some of that work in ‘lawns.’

The second year was spent trying to nurture the perennial edibles, establishing what annuals would grow well in the conditions and trying lots of new edibles.

In this third year, I’ve finally had a chance to try and make our garden more visitor friendly. I’ve written a post about why pesticides are an issue, but this comes from my science background and is more theoretical. This is the first year that I’ve really been able to see the result of any of those ideas. We’ve seen plenty of frogs. The garden is often filled with the pleasing sound of buzzing bees, especially by the raspberry and blueberry bed that has a long flowering period. I have seen many a ladybird adult and nymph. However, it is only recently that we’ve begun to get more birds. This is probably mostly due to the increased amount of tree like growth that provides shelter from the vast number of local pet cats.  

Making a feeder with kids

Attracting birds is something that my little one has become very excited about. In lockdown, one of the educational videos she came across was about feeding birds, so she made a bird feeder with hubby out of an old bottle.

They took a bottle and cut a hole about the size of a penny in it for the seed to fall out of it. Under this they cut a smaller hole and one on the side opposite. They threaded an old straw with an old lid stuck on it, to provide a little platform for any spilled seed to fall onto and a little place for a little bird to land on. The small hole and small platform hopefully mean that the bigger birds or squirrels have less chance of gobbling it all up. 

Attracting birds in spring is important because It turns out that even the seed eating garden birds in the UK will feed their chicks protein. Protein in the garden means bugs. Now that we’ve started learning about the birds, we can continue to provide food into winter and be able to help them more when food is scarce.

We chose to hang the feeder under the blackberry arch because it is covered and protected from the rain a little. It hangs from a frame that a cat should find impossible to climb and it is surrounded by greenery, which is hopefully more welcoming to the birds. It is also above the grass so that any seed that falls and sows itself won’t be a nuisance in vegetable beds.

I saw a robin trying to land on the little platform that caught the bird seed. Unfortunately, this is not how a robin eats. They prefer to pick off a solid surface. I just spread a bit of seed in a dish on the table. I was pleased when I came back to the dish and I saw evidence of it having been used. It turned out to be a pigeon. Humph!

As an alternative, I let the little one paint a ceramic bird feeder. It has a space inside for a robin to sit. Hopefully, the robin will fit, but bigger birds will not.

We added a water tray that was suspended from the blackberry support too. Especially in the summer months, birds need somewhere to drink. It is just a simple old mushroom tray that has been carefully washed and filled with about an inch of tap water. It’s not perfect, as birds prefer something much bigger, and much sturdier that they can bathe in and clean their feathers in too but I dare not make a large bird bath to go on any surface due to the cats. The water in the tray does need to be changed everyday and cleaned regularly to keep the birds that use it safe from diseases. This is also why we only have bird feeders that holds dry seed. We only need to clean and change the seed after it gets wet in the rain. A bird table that can hold scraps and other food needs to be cleaned everyday and emptied at night to avoid attracting rodents and going mouldy.

The robin is a frequent visitor. We have seen it hop around the garden and then fly off with a caterpillar in its mouth. I absolutely love this robin. Even though robins are very territorial, it’s definitely not just one robin. We’ve seen 2 in the garden at the same time. It may be possible that they are a nesting pair. This week it sat on our pergola and gave us a gorgeous tune. We were reminded by husband that this in bird language was probably something along the lines of, “Sling your hook! This space is mine!” Or, “Look at me, I’m so big, I sing so well, let’s have babies!” It sometimes follows me around as I garden, hoping for some unearthed worms. Unfortunately, this means that I always have gloves on or mucky hands and can’t get my camera out in time. We also do our best statue impressions when birds come into the garden, so we don’t scare them. So I don’t have many photos.

There is a blackbird that we’ve seen occasionally. There is a tree 3 doors down that seems to be teeming with magpies. We occasionally see one in the garden. We often hear and see great tits and sparrows. There was a house sparrow that sang very loudly and hopped in and out of our eaves for a couple of days. We think it might have been broadcasting its new home, hoping to attract a female. We really hope that it has only stopped because it was successful. We would love a nest of sparrows in the vicinity. They would help with the aphids.

Here is where we reach a gardening dilemma though. If we want to encourage birds into the garden to remove aphids, caterpillars, shield bugs, snails and slugs by providing food, then ideally, we shouldn’t be removing bugs that we find as this potentially removes the food source. I find it really hard to leave the pests and I find it really hard to look at the Daubenton’s kale with the new growth infested with aphids.

We put this nesting box in during the first year and naively thought it would be filled almost immediately. It has remained vacant. This doesn’t surprise me much now as the aforementioned barren wasteland wasn’t particularly inviting to birds. Hopefully as the trees and plants grow over the years the garden will become increasingly hospitable to birds that will happily eat our pests. I suspect this is also too exposed and becomes too hot during the day. I will move it a better spot. I just haven’t figured out what that spot is. This is all still a learning process as with the perennial edibles. Hopefully, utopia will be reached when the garden provides food for the birds and the birds provide a pest removal service.

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