Seeing songbirds is always a pleasure, and many of us like nothing better than watching the native birds that flit through our gardens from time to time. However, they’re not nearly as common as they used to be. In Europe, North America, Australia, and in many other parts of the world, native songbirds are in steep decline. Predation by cats and dogs is taking its toll and so is reduction in habitat and increased use of agrochemicals. Food sources and nest sites are rapidly disappearing.
If you have a garden, even a small one, you can help. By making it into a haven for local bird species you can do your bit to make sure the next generation will get to see all the birds that we know today. It’ll also bring more beautiful wildlife into your garden, and can help encourage kids to appreciate the great outdoors.
Here are a few things any gardener can do to create a backyard bird sanctuary:
- Use seeding grasses in borders - Ornamental grasses are becoming popular with landscapers and gardeners in drier climates. They’re tough, don’t need much watering, and are attractive in their own way. You may not be able to build a meadow from scratch but you can support threatened meadow plants. Choose species local to your area if possible or ask a nursery for the best choices.
- Dense trees and shrubs provide shelter and nesting sites for small birds like robins, finches, and bluebirds. Conifers and hawthorns work well and both species can also provide food for birds. For best effect, plant two or three close together or start a hedge.
- Bird Nest – If you don’t have space for a generous stand of trees or shrubbery (or even if you do) picking up a couple of nest boxes can provide alternative homes for garden birds. Those gardeners who successfully get birds breeding in their back yards can enjoy watching the whole process from nesting to the first successful flights of the young fledglings.
- Fruiting trees like mulberries and cherries will bring birds into a garden. Of course, you also get to eat the fruit, but don’t be too upset if the birds get to it first!
- If you have a cat - make sure it’s not a threat to wildlife. It might be hard to picture your friendly moggy as a bird-killer, but unfortunately many cats do hunt small animals. Put a bell on your cat’s collar and keep it inside at night. Always feed a cat before letting it out in the morning too. That way it won’t go out hungry and in the mood to hunt.
- Feeding tables can be very helpful in the winter. Just make sure yours is in a place of safety where neighbourhood cats can’t get at it. When it’s cold outside birds need high calorie foods, so pick fatty scraps and peanuts for robins and their relatives. Parrots always like sliced fruit, and hummingbirds love a mixture of heavily sugared water. Whatever you do, don’t let artificial sweeteners anywhere near your bird feeder- a belly full of no-cal sweetener can be lethal to a small bird.
- Birds need to drink too - A safe birdbath will give them all the water they need, and watching local birds have a ‘bath’ is great fun as well. It’s very charming to see the birds splash in the water and observing the behaviour of wildlife up close is always intriguing. There is just one common pitfall and that’s to install a birdbath that’s too difficult to get out of. If yours is deep or has steep sides, fix a stick or a wooden rod in it to make sure no bird gets stuck in the water.
Jess Spate is both a gardener and an advocate of sustainable environmental policy. She edits a British outdoor clothing website and lives in southern Wales.
- Canadian Gardener – Garden designs to attract birds By Christopher Clayton (socialmediasnews.wordpress.com)
- Do You Have a Bird Feeder? (casasugar.com)
- How-To: Attract Hummingbirds to Your Garden (casasugar.com)