Watching Birds In The Garden

Garden birdwatching provides never-ending interest and enjoyment and has a unique practical aspect. It helps provide birds with the necessities of life, such as food, water, and shelter, and is a fascinating challenge to the inventive naturalist.

Planting a variety of trees, shrubs, and plants will bring various species to your garden. Putting nestboxes up in spring and summer can bring breeding birds into the garden while providing a good source of water year-round will also bring birds in.

The garden is where you can enjoy a specially close relationship with bird life. Nowhere else can you exercise such control over the birds’ environment at all times of the year, perhaps even for an indefinite number of years.

In many cases, this leads to a surprising level of personal acquaintance with individual birds and the ability to recognize new birds as soon as they make their first appearance in the garden.

Do you know where birds go when it storms? Find out here

Garden Ecology

Although manmade, gardens are in effect extensions of woodland, and from the point of view of birds, they have many of the best features of this habitat.

Gardens can be a combination of different micro-habitats, including well-turned soil, weeds, turf, annual and perennial herbaceous plants, shrubs, and tall trees.

These environments offer much in the way of food, roosting places, and nest sites. An additional advantage is the plentiful open space in gardens. This is essential for such purposes as seeing predators from a good distance and for performing display and feeding flights.

The importance of open space is reflected in the strong preference birds show for the woodland edge as a habitat rather than the interior of woods.

How To Plant Your Garden For Birds

For the birdwatcher who wishes to select the most appropriate trees, shrubs, or herbaceous plants to put in a garden, many interesting possibilities arise.

There are at least 20 species, varieties, and hybrids of cotoneaster, all producing berries. These, and the many forms of crab apples, keep their fruit until late in winter, when many birds experience a shortage of food in the wild. These trees make an attractive garden and will also bring in many birds.

Some areas can even be left rough to allow grasses and weeds to develop. The seeds provide food for finches and other seedeaters. One weed that provides fascinating birdwatching is teasel, a tall plant which Goldfinches love.

Native plants can be attractive to many species of birds. Pussy willow, hawthorn, beech, holly, hornbeam, and berry bushes can all be useful.

Conifers provide good cover for small, secretive birds, and climbing plants such as ivy can also bring new birds to the garden.

Nestboxes For Birds

Bird tables, hanging coconuts, and peanut bags can provide lots of birdwatching in winter and early spring. Feeding can be continued in summer but be careful of the food you put out as it could harm any nestlings.

In summer, it is a good idea to put up artificial nest sites to bring a wide variety of birds into the garden. For tits, small boxes have a single small entrance hole, while other small nestboxes, with an open front, are attractive to robins, spotted flycatchers, and many other small birds. A more adventurous

While nestboxes protect above in the form of a roof, they may need additional protection from below, mainly to prevent squirrels or cats from climbing up to raid the nest.

This can be achieved by making an inverted funnel on the tree’s trunk (or on the pole), supporting the nest box. A more attractive alternative is to make this funnel shape out of sprays of the prickliest gorse available.

If you want to know more about attracting nesting birds, read this article I wrote.

Water And Shelter

While many places have rivers, canals, reservoirs, and lakes, it is more helpful to put out water for them and if you have a pond, make sure it is easily accessible. Rainwater gutters provide yet another drinking facility that birds will happily use.

All birds need to roost overnight and is no different for our garden birds. They need to conceal themselves from predators and shelter from weather like wind, rain, and snow.

Shrubby vegetation and cavities in buildings accommodate most of those that roost singly or in small groups. Nestboxes become valuable in winter for several species: in one case, over 60 wrens emerged from a single entrance hole of a nestbox designed for tits after a cold night spent huddled together for warmth inside.

Communal roosters, such as blackbirds in winter, make good use of large shrubberies such as rhododendron clumps.

For more information on providing a fresh supply of water, please read this article I wrote.

Opportunist Birds

The magpie, the collared dove, and the starling display intelligence and opportunism to exploit new resources as they become available. This allows them to learn, rather than being restricted to their usual habitat.

The opportunism lies in entering gardens for the sake of fresh food, spilled grains, and food leftovers. The ring-necked parakeet from India manages to survive in other climates by opportunist raids on almost any species of garden fruit tree or seedhead in summer and learning to visit bird tables in winter.

There are many birds of prey that will attack smaller birds opportunistically in your garden. The Kestrel is one of the most common, but the sparrowhawk is becoming a more frequent, if quick, garden visitor.

At night, the tawny owl can be heard with quavering hoots across the suburbs. Though essentially a woodland bird, it has discovered that good-sized gardens or stretches of many small back gardens with tall trees and open spaces offer acceptable habitats. ‘The tawny owl does not appear to object to its usual diet of mice and sparrows.

Find out how to keep birds safe in your garden here

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