Looking after our garden birds

Garden birds are the background noise to many of our days – from the dawn chorus on a beautiful spring morning, to the mournful song of a solitary robin in mid-winter, to the cooing of a collared dove, or the chatter of house sparrows as they jostle for the best perch on our garden feeders.

It is a soundtrack we simply can’t imagine being without, and yet figures from various bird monitoring schemes all suggest that populations of the most widespread species have undergone significant declines since the 1970s.  Among the worst hit species are some of our most loved garden birds including house sparrows and starlings, which have declined by around 71% in the past thirty years, and song thrushes and greenfinches, which have seen declines of around 56% and 35% respectively.

Reasons for these declines are complex, and researchers are suggesting that we need new approaches to protecting common bird species, such as increasing green spaces in urban areas and changing farming practices.

While most of us don’t have the influence or ability to make these landscape-scale habitat improvements, we can each play a small part to help our most threatened garden birds: by providing food and water and, if we are lucky enough to have a garden, by providing places to nest, shelter and socialise.


Food and Drink

Good food choices include: sunflower seeds and sunflower hearts, peanuts (preferably chopped or available from a mesh peanut feeder), mealworms and other dried insects, cooked, unsalted rice, uncooked porridge oats. Fruit, such as apple pieces, soaked sultanas and bananas will also be beneficial. A supply of clean, unfrozen water is just as important, both for drinking and bathing.

Cleaning bird feeders and bird baths once a week can minimise the risk of transmission of infectious diseases and help to keep your birds healthy.


Nest sites

You can provide a variety of nest boxes in your garden. Boxes with 32mm diameter holes will suit most small bird species, while larger diameter holes (42mm) will be suitable for larger species such as starlings; remember that some species such as house sparrows nest in loose colonies and may benefit from having a terrace nest box, or several boxes close together. Further information is readily available from organisations such as the British Trust for Ornithology or the RSPB on the internet.


Planting shrubs and climbers

The provision of mature shrubs and climbers, particularly those which have nectar to encourage insects, or which are covered in berries, will provide areas for your birds to shelter, socialise, feed, roost and nest.

Adapted with permission from an article by Anne Waite, Wye Church Eco-congregation working group.

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