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Help more birds make it through to spring

Friday, 7th October 2016

It’s not that hard to make your garden irresistible to wildlife – Simon H King shares some of the ways he’ll be going wild in his garden this autumn
Chaffinch in grass
 
A bird garden to be proud of is in your reach:

If there’s one thing that joins together wildlife enthusiasts it’s a wild bird feeder. Some of them are humble contraptions – occasionally homemade – others are sophisticated and shaped like rockets ready for blast off. Whilst some industriously manage to defy the most cunning of grey squirrels others do not. And the squirrels quickly learn to identify which is which and show no remorse for devouring the weak ones. Money spent on a high-quality feeder is most certainly money well invested; however, even the best feeders won’t work when they’re put in the wrong place or filled with the wrong bird food.

Let’s start at the beginning with a nice new feeder:

Once you’ve found a suitable place to hang the feeder you’ll naturally want it to be popular with the locals and it will be (trust me) with a little patience. In the meantime, note that new feeders arouse suspicion – they’re like an unwanted exclamation mark!! It’s the same in every garden whenever a new feeder’s presented – the birds just want the old feeder back. Don’t worry, though, as the birds will soon overcome their fears when the temperature drops…

Try not to think of a bird feeder as the beginning, middle and end of your wildlife story; try to expand upon the feeding formats. One of the easiest ways to do this is to add a tray to the feeder as this provides additional perching space and allows more birds to feed. Try a hang-right wire as that allows you to experiment and find the best height to attract birds and the safest height to deter cats.
 
Bird table

If your goal is to attract more wildlife this autumn and winter (and why wouldn’t it be?) then install a bird table. There’s a common misconception about bird tables being just a different way of feeding the same birds and, whilst there’s an element of truth in that statement, it’s not the main reason for investing in one. A number of birds are reluctant to feed from hanging bird feeders and these prefer to stay on terra firma. Wrens, sparrows and thrushes will more readily feed on an open bird table as it mimics their default position of feeding on the ground. Soft foods look glorious on a bird table. If you haven’t tried these in your garden yet, please do so. Your birds are certainly in for a treat. My favourite’s Golden Chorus – and it’s the birds’ favourite too.

It cannot be overstated that good bird food is worth the extra investment. However, good bird food doesn’t have to be expensive bird food. In fact, high price is no guarantee of goodness, which confuses matters greatly. It’s, of course, true that some seeds are better than others – better because they offer more calories, more energy for birds for example. But goodness can easily be lost from a seed due to neglect, if stored incorrectly and not cleaned to minimise dust, remove extraneous waste husk and eliminate agricultural debris as these can all harm birds.

Food needn’t be a confusing subject and I encourage you to talk with the Haith’s team to review your bird food choices to see if there’s something more appropriate for you and your garden birds. And this is about you as much as it is about the birds as there are mixes in the range to help reduce waste (Huskfree Advance) and eliminate seed growth likewise there are others blended specifically to appeal to birds who enjoy cracking and rolling husks such as the Chaffinch, with its parrot-like bill. Soft foods as previously mentioned appeal to those birds who find cracking open tough seeds nigh impossible. We refer to them as softbills and they’re the more delicate, insect eating thrushes, Wrens and Dunnocks.

It’s tempting to leave it there with the food but that would be overlooking suet and we wouldn’t want to do that, would we? Suet’s an all-year-round food that you can easily unwrap and add to the feeding station at leisure, or, supplement seed diets when temperatures plummet. Both are popular approaches – both ways have their merits. All I will add is that birds are creatures of habit and their suspicious nature could see them overlook even a life-saving meal if it’s not presented regularly enough. And the same can be said for the act of stopping feeding the birds – it’s like a favourite watering hole drying up.

With the right food and feeding stations at the ready, it won’t be long before more wildlife’s paying your garden a visit and including you in their routine search for food. At this stage, it’s tempting to sit back and enjoy their company; however, there’s a little more work to be done this side of Christmas.
 
Cat

Take a walk in the garden and look for signs of predators – places where cats can hide and pounce onto a bird /table. A domestic cat can pounce up to five times its own height so don’t place them too close to bushes, fences and small trees. This is frustrating to anyone who already knows that birds seem to feed more freely when a bird feeder is hanging from a branch.

Tempting as it is to ignore the build-up of food waste on bird tables and bird feeders it’s unwise to do so. Stick a note in your diary to clean feeding stations on a regular basis, there’s plenty of advice how to go about doing this safely. It’s really not that hard to fill a bucket with warm soapy water and get that feeder in great shape for songbirds. Household bleach isn’t ideal and I personally recommend the use of the Safe4 Disinfectant Range.

Birds require food, shelter and a place to breed – this we know. We’ve already covered the provision of ‘food’ and our intention should be clear to all, we’re helping more birds make it through to spring by caring for them during autumn and winter. Let’s take a look at shelter and a place to breed…
 
Blue tit

Habitat takes time to create – some bird gardens are lucky enough to be flanked by woodland hosting native trees, hedgerows and untouched common ground providing biodiversity as they support important and desirable life. Life – in this case – being a ‘natural’ food supply; protein-rich invertebrates, grubs and insects. What more could wildlife want? Other gardens are less fortunate. Nevertheless, both types of garden can boost their habitat credentials by putting up one or two (or three!) nest boxes. Oh…and please don’t wait for National Nest Box (Feb 14th) to put up a nest box – do it now, and give the birds plenty of time to find it and – what’s more – the box will offer shelter from the worst winter will throw at us and our wildlife.

Come spring, the birds will know where the nest boxes are and every single second they save - because they don’t have to build a nest – will have been banked by you, because you took the time to help more birds make it through to spring.

Thank you.

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