With so much garden space available to birds, many will choose to make their nest in your garden given the right conditions. In this article, I look at what you can do to make your garden more attractive to nesting birds.
Birds need water, food, and shelter to survive. Bird boxes can be put out into the garden the previous autumn or winter to attract nesting birds in spring. With a good supply of food and water, you may find that your garden is soon home to a pair of nesting birds.
With the proper preparation, you will find that it is not difficult to attract birds to your garden to make their nest.
Attracting birds to your garden
For birds to choose to nest in your garden, they first need to be attracted to your garden. Bringing birds to your garden will need shelter, food, and water.
Birds need to shelter from the cold during the winter before they are ready to breed, so conifers, dense shrubs, and trees are great for keeping them warm.
By providing a fresh water supply, birds will be able to drink and bathe. Bathing is essential for birds as it keeps their feathers in good condition, allowing them to fly and stay warm.
Providing a good food supply, especially over the winter, is a great way to bring birds into your garden.
Once you have birds in your garden, there is more chance of staying and choosing to breed there.
There are a few different ways to encourage nesting birds to use your garden to lay their eggs. To do this, we need to understand their breeding cycle and what we can do to make their stay easier.
By understanding when they start to breed, and the incubation time of the eggs, we can understand where our garden birds are at different times of the breeding season.
Breeding is the most critical part of a bird’s life as they need to pass its genes on to the next generation to survive. As spring comes, you will notice that the birds start to sing earlier in the morning. They are also the loudest at this time of the year, and their song helps them find a mate.
Morning song is used to mark their territory from others and to attract a mate. Males usually do most of the singing, and they will perch themselves high up for their song to be heard.
A male who can sing loud in the morning is showing females they have their territory and that they can provide enough food. A bird with little food in its territory will not waste their energy singing.
All bird songs are different, and it is incredible to hear a Song thrush or Robin in the morning, even if it is 4 am.
Territorial wars can happen in spring between birds of the same species, and you may see Robins fighting to keep their area. Although battles can be to the death, spring also brings courtship displays. Various methods are used, including displays while in flight, head nods, and even dances.
Courtship displays do not matter if the male doesn’t have his territory and enough food for the young to survive, as the female is looking for the male who gives her young the best chance of survival.
Once the pair have met, they will spend time preening each other and building their nest. Birds nest at different times in the year, with the Blackbird starting to build their nest in March. Blackbird nests are created as a cup shape, made of grass and lined with mud.
If you have a nestbox, this needs to be up before spring to increase the chances that birds will use it that season. It is best to put it up the previous autumn or winter.
Many birds will have different nests, with Jackdaws nesting in holes in trees where they lay their eggs. Crows and wood pigeons will build their nest of sticks, and you may be able to spot these on the tops of your trees. While some nests are large, others are tiny, with little more than a cup of moss and feathers.
Many commercial nestboxes cater to a few species of songbirds as they have smaller entrances, but larger entrances can attract birds such as owls.
The female will lay her eggs once the nest is built, usually once a day, until she has no more. Birds that visit your garden will usually lay between three to five eggs over three to five days. The length of time it takes the eggs to hatch depends on the species and can be as short as ten days or as long as four weeks.
Once the eggs have hatched, you will often see the parents flying backwards and forwards with food for the chicks. This will happen multiple times a day and is a perfect time to see what they are feeding their chicks.
A few days after hatching, the young will start to grow their feathers and look more like their parents. Once the young get their flight feathers, they will soon leave the nest. This usually takes about two to three weeks for most garden songbirds, although larger birds often take time before they fledge.
While you may think that this is it, many songbirds have a second or third brood. If there is good enough weather and enough food to survive, many garden birds will raise another clutch of eggs.
If you have Sparrows nesting, they may lay three clutches per year, while Blackbirds can lay five. However, most will only raise one brood, allowing them to give them better care.
By July, you may notice that your garden has gone relatively quiet. The birdsong that was made to attract a mate has stopped, and you won’t see the adults bringing food to their young anymore. In July, many songbirds moult, shedding their feathers for new ones. By moulting in summer, the birds are less at risk of the weather, and there is more shelter.
If you hear birds singing for a mate in spring, then there is a good chance they want to make your garden its home for their nest. One of the best ways to attract mating birds is to put up a nestbox or birdbox.
Bird boxes should ideally be put out before spring so that the bird get used to them as part of the garden and their territory. I put any new ones out the previous autumn or spring, which allows the birds to get accustomed to them.
Birds do not need a lot to survive, and if you can feed them and provide fresh water, you are two-thirds of the way there. By making or buying a nestbox, you give them everything they need.
The species in your garden will determine what type of nestbox to make or buy. Nestboxes come in different shapes and sizes and are designed for specific species.
House sparrows, Tree sparrows, Great tits, and Blue tits prefer nest boxes with a small hole on the front near the top. Other nestboxes have no front and allow larger birds, including Robins and Wagtails.
Bird boxes can be made simply out of six pieces of wood, or you can buy specialist boxes from retailers.
If you make your own or buy a nestbox, you will need to ensure that it is put in the right place. If the nest box has been there for a while, then the birds will be used to it and may use it.
Bird boxes should be placed between five and sixteen feet off the ground to avoid most predators. Ensure it is also away from any branches or perches that a predator may be able to get to it from and keep it away from birdbaths or feeding tables.
It is best to face the box to avoid direct sunlight and rain. Try to site it with the entrance facing between south-east and north. Rain can be kept out by tilting the bird box forward slightly.
Although I try to site my bird boxes in autumn or spring, I sometimes notice that birds won’t use them the following spring, and I have to wait another year until they use them. I am not sure why this is, but you have to be patient.
I never check the bird box once it is in use as I like to let the birds grow without any interruption from me.
Once breeding has finished, I will clean out the box. I don’t use any strong chemicals but will use boiling water to kill off any parasites and debris. I usually do this in autumn once the birds have gone.
Although bird boxes are handy to have, not all birds need them. Because many birds will make their nests from mud, hair, feathers, and anything similar they can find, you can put out suitable material for them. Some pet shops and online retailers sell bird nesting material that you can put out in spring to help birds build their nests.