Sunday, 30 October 2011

Birds in your garden - friends or foes?

Robins become incredibly tame when feeding young (and the chicks consume vast quantities of caterpillars)
Yesterday was the RSPB ‘Feed the Birds Day’ and it’s not too late to request the special information pack the organisation was offering – just click on this link to request it. It’s full of useful information to help identify birds and advice on how the way we garden can help wildlife conservation. Why is this so important? It’s not just a case of birds being fascinating and pretty to look at; they are a vital link in the ecological chain, which is in fact a part of the RSPB’s message.

Green woodpeckers re-appear in our orchard every June when the young fledge (usually three) and feed on ants which they collect with their sticky-tipped tongue. This adult flew down early one morning onto the path opposite our bedroom window.
Gardens are so often – or can become – wild-life corridors between philistine and enlightened gardeners. It only takes a little imagination, but by encouraging birds into your plot, you will be enlisting their help in controlling pests. Thrushes eat snails, blackbirds like slugs, green woodpeckers love ants, bluetits consume vast quantities of greenfly, finches peck at seeding weeds and summer visitors snap up unwanted insects. That’s a simplification of the natural way of things, yet you may worry that they will also eat your fruit, peck your seedlings and generally be a nuisance. Well, I guess you would not hesitate to protect your plants from cats and dogs, from scratching chickens and even children leaping all over the vegetable plot!

Even the smallest ledge, if well camouflaged, will support a thrush's nest - this was behind a fig tree (I had to part the branches so that the photo could be taken).
The best time to start encouraging birds is right now, as daylight is in ever shorter supply, birds have less time to feed. Look after them all winter and come Spring, they’ll be seeking nesting sites and consuming even more pests as they feed their young from sunrise to sunset. First take a look at providing cover and shelter; maybe only a few bushes, or a suitable tree that will not dominate the garden but will provide cover on the way to bird-feeding stations


Feeders could be suspended from
a rose arch or trellis is you do not
have a suitable tree. Great tits
and blue tits nest every year in
our garden - sometimes
in horizontal scaffold poles!
Erect an archway and plant a climbing rose, again for cover, but you will also maybe attract a nesting blackbird or greenfinch; add nest-boxes now to attract other birds. Don’t forget that water is vital – a really large glazed or plastic flowerpot saucer stood on a chimney pot is both practical and decorative; keep it clear of debris, replenish regularly with rain-water and check for ice as the temperature falls.

This male pheasant has been a regular visitor for three years, pecking up the seed that greedy birds let fall from the feeding station (tubes hold mixed bird-seed, sunflower seeds, peanuts and suet cakes).
Some birds are ground feeders and will peck fallen crumbs; others will be attracted by seed-mixes; you can even make your own bird cupcakes with seed and melted fat scraps – a task for the children using Dobies special kit. Your efforts may well save lives if we have another winter like those of the last two years. Scour the Dobies website and your Dobies 2012 catalogue for seeds you can sow next year that will benefit birds (sunflowers especially) and check the equipment section for bird food and plant protection products.

Why not keep a chart of the birds that visit your garden, with dates when winter and summer visitors arrive and depart.
This one dates back to 2008. First I noted regular visitors and then created the chart, to include species that I had seen in local hedgerows. Double-click on t he image to see it at a larger size.
P.S. Hopefully all the links in this post will work when you click on them - you'll see that the Dobies website is being totally revamped; a long and very complicated task that is still in progress.

2 comments:

  1. Lucky to have both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers round here. It always amazes me when I see one up close just how big Green Woodpeckers are.

    First Fieldfares of the Autumn spotted yesterday nearby, but the best spot of the day was driving down the A1M, just north of Stevenage, when I saw four Red Kites - one being mobbed by a crow and the other three wheeling and swooping together.

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  2. I agree that green woodpeckers are an amazing size; and also - in the year we had four greater spotted families visiting - how amazing it was to be able to tell the difference between each bird. Different shape, different colouring, and each departing to a different compass point, according to local habitats. As for the red kites; is it not wonderful how they have spread since their re-introduction not that long ago? Apart from Wales, we only ever saw them over the Chilterns alongside the A40, now way northwest near Chipping Norton. Thanks for commenting; it means so much to receive readers' thoughts. Ann.

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