Gardens with success in feeding birds.

The recent Big Garden Bird Watch (BGBW) results highlighted that some local gardens are more successful in attracting birds than others. What are the secrets? The Wild about Bath team has been visiting a large number of gardens this winter to test out our Gardening for Wildlife questionnaire and so we have been able to glean some real life examples. Some of them you will be able to imitate, others not. First the bullet points, then the real live gardens and gardeners. The photos are all taken from local gardens.

How to attract birds to your garden

Hard to do:

  1. Have your garden in the right place! Near to the countryside, and especially trees, will obviously attract a wider range of birds, such as bullfinch and nuthatch. No bird is going to solely use your garden.
  2. Live in your house for a long time. Being well-rooted allows for any changes you make to come to fruition. The trees, shrubs and climbers can mature and remain undisturbed if you choose not to be too zealous about cutting them back.
  3. Train your neighbours. If they have mature trees that you don’t have room for, or are feeding birds themselves, that makes it easier for mixed flocks to nip from one garden to the next. If they (and you) also don’t have bird-hungry cats, that helps the birds feel safer. If they have features in the garden that increase cover and food and places to raise young in their gardens that will increase the number of birds in the local area.
  4. Think longer term than the BGBW weekend. We didn’t put our feeders out last year until shortly before the weekend when we were going to count. Result? Zero birds. They need to get used to the positioning of feeders and know that there will be a reliable and safe source of food. They are also thinking ahead to the breeding season for nest sites.

Easier to do:

See ‘How to help birds in winter’ for an account of how to provide cover and food in your own garden.

Examples of successful gardens

Alan has lived in the same house on Entry Hill Park for 34 years, and in his childhood looked down from Springfield Quarry onto the farmland that stretched from there down to the city. The house backs on to the former quarry walls and so ivy now cascades down it and there is a section on top of the quarry wall that is pretty inaccessible and can’t be cut back. The birds can therefore hop from the ivy to the apple tree where many of the feeders are and back again without a sparrowhawk raid – something that deters many birds at exposed feeders. There are bushes with berries, dead seed heads, insects a-plenty on the apple tree bark at the back and the birches at the front. Alan has at least 17 (!) bird feeders of various types in the front and the back, including a bird table , an open fronted feeder which the robins prefer and a circular one on a post. He uses mostly sunflower hearts, but provides fat balls as well. There are nestboxes used by great tits,  but other birds nest in the thick ivy so they welcome the additional food provided right at their doorstep as they are feeding several broods of young throughout the season. Alan and his wife Lynn kept a list of birds that landed in the garden over their many years there, which now totals 35 species.

open robin feeder
Open-fronted robin feeder

Peter and Alison’s home of 36 years is in a quiet part of Monkton Combe and they also own a copse of mature trees across the road and see the birds often flying in to their feeders from there, such as the 12 long tailed tits that chose to devour the peanuts during the hour of the BGBW. They too have provided places for birds to raise young with a variety of different types of nest boxes positioned on walls, in trees and even above the entrance gate, on both sides of the house. They have thought about the next generation (of humans!) by positioning some of their feeders on windows so that the grandchildren can get a close view.

Daphne and Sue, despite having fairly small gardens themselves, are both lucky enough to have neighbours who support wildlife in their own gardens. Sue’s neighbour in Sulis Meadows has a tree from which tits have a regular route to a bush in Sue’s garden and then to her feeder. Daphne’s garden in a newish development in the centre of Combe Down does have house sparrows visiting regularly unlike many gardens around here. They go from garden to garden along the row (like the cat in the children’s book ‘Six Dinner Sid’). Debra lives in an apartment block at the top of Widcombe Hill and has managed to have birds visit her balcony feeder despite other neighbours not feeding birds, as there are trees across the road.

Safe path for blue tits from bush to feeder

So there are local examples of success even if you don’t have perfect conditions. If you’d like the joy of birds visiting you on a daily basis and also to feel that you are contributing to their survival, what small changes could you make to facilitate this?

By Ann Stuart

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