Creating a Bird Friendly Garden
At Glorious Gardens we are increasing being asked to design gardens that are wildlife friendly, especially for birds.
This article aims to help you think more about how you can support birdlife.
Micheal McCarthy in The Moth Snowstorm, quotes the Common Bird Census which has recently found that bird life in the UK is in startlingly rapid decline, The Turtle Dove population has declined by 95%, the Grey Partridge by 91%, the Spotted Flycatcher by 89% and the Tree Sparrow by 95%.
Even though aggressive agricultural practises and the use of pesticides that have decimated insect populations are the main cause, the spread of urban living and the paving and astroturfing of domestic dwellings is playing its part.
But there are many things you can do to nurture bird life even in the smallest of spaces.
Birds like a varied canopy where they can flitter from one level to the other so having a good tree canopy, shrub level and then ground cover can give them good protection.
They love diseased branches and dead trees to make nests in (it is the brave gardener who will leave a dead tree in their borders but if we see it as a 5 star bird hotel we can inspire others to do the same).
Leaving hedges uncut until the nesting season is over, between March and August, is not only vital but in some cases disturbing hedges is illegal as is the destruction of any plant life if it contains an active nest. So if your neighbour wants to cut down a tree and you know there are nesting birds there have a polite but firm word with them.
Bird boxes are really good ways to help especially for the smaller species of birds but they need to be situated away not only from where cats can climb but also where cats can lie in wait as that will disturb the adult birds feeding their young.
You can erect a bird box camera and have your very own birch watch show on your lap top when work gets boring.
On the subject of cats, the RSPB recommends Catwatcher, which is a little box which emits a high frequency that only cats can hear and don’t like. They recommend persisting for a number of weeks before it starts to really work.
As well as natural food which we shall look at in a minute, bird tables have traditionally been the way people have supported the feeding of birds. However, cats obviously like to hover next to these bird magnets.
If you are to have a bird table make sure it is tall enough and slippery enough to prevent cats from climbing up. Squirrel barriers can be used for cats as well to stop them climbing up. Tin cans or cones or spiky plants at the base of the bird feeders can also prevent cats launching their attack.
Prickly bushes near the bird feeder can also be vital as the birds can use this as an airport ready to land on the bird table without cats lying in wait for them.
Bird feeders are generally safer for birds as they can be hung from small branches. You can get different feeders for different birds eg goldfinches enjoy niger seeds which can be too small for normal feeders.
Choosing the type of feed can support particular birds. The RHS’s research reveals that tits prefer insect cakes, finches like berries, wrens like animal fat mixed with grated cheese and sparrows and finches like sunflower seeds. Growing fruit and berries will attract especially thrushes and blackbirds and starlings prefer peanuts.
All seem to like mealworms.
You can chose plants that will flower and seed or fruit through most of the year, allowing birds to have a constant source of feed. Any plants or flowers that attract insects are obviously brilliant as the insects will provide one source of food for the birds.
Spring time can be covered with Wild Cherry, Sloeberry, last year’s Crab Apple fruit, Hawthorn, old Ivy seeds and Cotoneaster berries. Summer is heralded by Mulberries, Honeysuckle, Buddlea Sunflowers and Teasels.
Autumn packs the best punch at a time where lots of birds are wanting to get fat before they migrate. Plants like Pyracantha, Rosa Glauca, Holly, Ivy and Rowan are very generous at this time of year.
Also plants which are susceptible to insects, normally a phrase that makes gardens gasp in horror, are actually fantastic for birds needing to feed and get their protein for the day.
Other things in the garden
Keeping your lawn rather than pave it over can encourage birds to forage and they like the grass clippings for nest building. Uncut grass and wildflower meadows are obviously been more attractive for birds and host lots of insects as well.
In fact in Autumn leaving piles of leaves and compost really helps birds scrummage around for insects and worms before Winter sets in.
A pond, always the queen of the garden, acts as a clean fresh water source and bath as well as being host to insects.
This Autumn you can think about giving your garden a bird friendly makeover and enjoy having more of these vibrant but fragile creatures visitors.
What to do in your garden in October
Now is the time to move plants around the garden or plant up new ones. The soil is still warm for the roots to establish but there is less chance of the plants drying out.
You can divide most Perennials now including Rhubarb and balance up your garden by taking the one half to a different place.
You can still plant lettace and can start sowing Chinese winter greens and Spring Cabbage.
Repairing your lawn can start now with the cooler weather, either using pre grown turfs or seeding into prepared earth.
Your lawn treatment can start this month with aerating the garden with a strong fork and raking out moss and thatch.
Lastly you can cut back shrubs like Buddlea and Lavatera to about half their height to neaten them up and prevent strong winter winds rocking them about- the more fundamental pruning happens in Spring
Where to visit in October
I like to recommend Sussex Prairies near Henfield at this time of year.
These gardens are a spectacular display of praises flowers and grasses difficult to grow in small gardens. While this cold weather continues they will continue to have a faded beauty right up to Xmas.