What to do for birds


You may see birds flitting backwards and forwards as they gather nesting materials this month. You might be woken by the spring dawn chorus in most areas with even a bit of greenery.

Put up nesting boxes for birds, to increase their choice of nesting sites. You could hang a nest box opposite a window, in the hope of seeing the mother coming and going from the nest. Boxes hung on walls can be safer from cats and other predators than those hung on trees. A north or north-east facing position is best, as strong sun can make nest boxes uninviting. Choose a height suitable for the bird species in your garden, after doing a little research.

When choosing nesting boxes, consider their design before buying. Woodcrete (a mixture of concrete and sawdust) can be a better material than wood, as it is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Different designs may be more or less suitable for particular species, and it is worth doing a little research. Combined nest boxes and feeding tables are not usually popular with wild birds, and can be unhygienic.

Bird food catalogues often have helpful information about available products, as do the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the British Trust for Ornithology and The Wildlife Trusts.

When putting out bird food, it is best to avoid peanuts and large chunks, as there is a risk that large pieces could be fed by adult birds to their fledglings, and this could result in choking. Safe foods include: wildbird seed mixes (but not those containing peanuts or dog biscuit); black sunflower seeds (the birds will remove the outside casing, and the inner seed is soft); mild grated cheese; sultanas, raisins and currants (best soaked overnight); pinhead oatmeal; apples, pears and other soft fresh fruit; mealworms and waxworms. Alternatively, you can buy fat balls from many garden centres and bird food suppliers. This is an easy alternative, and you can be confident that you will be doing no harm.

To maximise the numbers of different bird species that you attract to your garden, it is a good idea to cater to their different feeding habits. Hanging bird feeders attract species such as tits, finches and sparrows. There are many models available, designed to help keep out rats, cats, pigeons and squirrels, or to fit onto walls, windows, windowsills and balconies. Bird tables attract robins, house and tree sparrows, doves, pigeons, bullfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches and bramblings. Food scattered on the ground attracts blackbirds, thrushes, dunnocks, wrens, fieldfares and redwings.

Hanging bird feeders are best suited over a paved or decked area, which can be regularly swept clear of debris. This may help to reduce problems with rats, if they prove a nuisance.

Bird tables are best suited about a metre (3 ft) clear of cover or high vegetation, so that cats and other predators cannot launch themselves onto unsuspecting feeding birds. They can be quite close to the window or patio, as many birds seem to get used to human activity, and are unlikely to be put off by coincidental human activity.

A bird bath can be a vital source of drinking water for birds. Ensure that yours is kept topped up. Models are available to attach to windows, walls and sills, if you are limited for space. Changing the water regularly, and scrubbing the bath out with a mild detergent (available from bird food suppliers) can help to prevent the spread of disease.

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