Thursday 15 August 2013

Attracting Birds to your Garden

Feeding the birds in your garden will help attract a wide variety of species
This year we have had the joy of seeing the blackbirds return to our garden and see them build a new nest in their favourite spot. Last year they had just the one brood but this summer two sets of fledglings have left the nest. The reason the blackbirds have decided to come back is because we've tried to make our garden as bird friendly as possible.

The first flight of a fledgling blackbird
Home sweet home

Several years ago I bought a slate-roofed bird feeder to mount on the garage wall. I used to put food out for the birds in it. I say used to because over the years the flowering currant in front of it has grown up making it difficult to get to. This has meant that is has now became a perfect nesting spot – hidden away on a sturdy ledge but with access to plenty of nearby food. I also saw the blackbirds going round the garden collecting up dead grasses to use as nest building material. 

A well hidden safe nesting spot
If you don't have any trees or suitable spots for birds to nest in put up some nesting boxes. There is a wide variety of boxes now available depending of what species you would like to attract or know are in your area. 

A pair of small nest boxes would make a great home for some sparrows
What to feed birds

To attract the widest and healthiest selection of birds invest in a variety of different feeders and specialist foods. For a good selection look at Westland Garden Health for some ideas. A general purpose feeder filled with a seed mix is a good starter kit. Specialist seeds such a the black, oily nyjer seeds are a favourite of goldfinches. Mealworms placed on a mesh feeder tray will be a treat for any robin or blue tit.

A single feeder with some good quality seed mix makes a good starter set
Many people simply put scraps of food out on the lawn that they wouldn't eat themselves. You wouldn't eat mouldy food yourself so don't expect it to be any good for the birds. Mouldy and stale food brings with it the risk of respiratory infections and salmonella. Any food that is put on the ground should be cleared away in the evening as it can attract rats which carry their own diseases.

There are some particular foods from your garden which you should avoid even if they are fresh. Soft fats, such as cooking fat, margarine, spreads and vegetable oil can be smeared on a bird's feathers which affects their waterproofing and insulting properties. Hardened fats such as lard or suet are fine. Birds can't digest milk so stick to fresh water only. You can often buy or fill your own coconut shells with fat for birds but don't give them desiccated coconut as it can swell up inside a bird and be fatal. The same goes for cooked porridge oats as the mixture can harden around a bird's beak.

Making it safe

If you just want to feed the birds but have squirrels in your garden you'll need a specialist feeder with a cage fitted around it to stop the squirrels helping themselves. Squirrels don't just go for peanuts but any seeds they can get their paws on. Other garden predators are also the domestic cat. Site feeders away from trees and tall plants and grass where cats can hide. 

Always on the lookout...
Fat balls are a great source of energy for birds, particularly in the colder months. However, some are still sold in the mesh bags. Remove the balls from the bags before putting them out as the birds can easily trap their feet or beaks.

When to feed birds

If you start to feed the birds in your garden then you must continue as they will rely on you as a source of food. Many people think that birds only need extra food through the winter months. In reality birds need feeding all year round but what they need to be fed differs depending on the time of year. In the winter make sure there is plenty of food out for the birds first thing in the morning. Overnight birds expel a lot of energy and need high fat foods to restore their supplies. In the summer birds need foods with more protein in as they will be moulting.

If you start feeding the birds make sure there is always plenty available
If you like to put out peanuts make sure during the nesting season they are only put in feeders as whole nuts given to chicks can choke them.

Keeping it clean

You wouldn't eat off dirty plates so don't expect your feathered visitors to enjoy it either. Don't allow food to build up or get wet. Clean the feeders regularly in a low dose solution of disinfectant. Always wear gloves for this and clean them outside. Once they are clean move the feeders around to stop a build up of bird droppings. 

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Westland Garden Health. The words, photographs and advice are my own. 

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