Going for a Song
4th May 2017 Royal Mail will issue a fabulous set of 10 beautiful stamps celebrating British songbirds. You will discover some familiar feathered friends together with less well-known species. These wonderful birds provide the soundtrack for spring and early summer with their delightful tunes and often complex repertoires.
Sadly, many British songbirds are currently in decline. Their signature tunes are becoming an increasingly rare pleasure. If you thought that your mornings have been ushered in by a less spectacular dawn chorus lately, this isn’t your imagination playing tricks on you. The birds are disappearing and It is more important than ever to help the gorgeous songbirds to prosper. But why are so many birds in trouble and what can you do to help them?
The Landscape Is Changing
Modern agricultural practices have severely impacted wild birds. Many of the countryside’s hedgerows and wild flowers have been sacrificed as the land has been farmed more intensively. The birds have lost valuable shelter and nesting sites whilst many of the seeds and berries which are a source of food have slowly disappeared.
To make matters worse, the lack of grasses and winter refuges for insects, together with the use of pesticides, has meant that there are fewer invertebrates for the birds to feed on.
As the British population has increased, so has urbanisation. More and more of our native birds’ natural habitats have been lost to suburbia. Modern housing features fewer nooks and crannies in which to nest and gardens have become more formal. Pesticides are used in gardens to rid them of the insects which the birds could feed on. House proud homeowners have been busy repairing outbuildings, removing yet more nesting sites and potential shelter from the birds’ territories.
There has also been a trend for renovating old barns and indeed any disused buildings which could be transformed into housing. New homes for people mean less homes for the birds.
Born to be Wild
The birds need wild landscapes with thriving eco systems but we have been progressively removing the features of the landscape which enable the different species to prosper. Perhaps it is time that we did what we can to redress the balance.
For most birds, simply staying alive is quite a challenge. With potential sources of food and nesting sites diminishing, the birds now need all the help they can get. Happily, our gardens offer the perfect solution, regardless of whether they are large or small, urban or rural. Every garden can be transformed into an important haven for wildlife. So how to you create a bird-friendly back yard?
Bridge Over Troubled Water
In common with all creatures, birds need a ready supply of fresh water to drink and to bath in. This can be in very short supply in urban areas, particularly on hotter days when puddles evaporate. The provision of a bird bath will really help and it doesn’t have to be a costly affair. Any shallow dish will suffice, as long as it is kept topped up. Leave a ball floating in the water to prevent it from freezing over in the winter. Alternatively, fit a water heater or a fountain to keep the water flowing.
Position the bath within easy reach of bushes and trees as the birds will look for secure retreats to fly to when they feel threatened. They also appreciate a safe place to sit and watch before they fly to the bath. The bird bath should be cleaned regularly to prevent the spread of disease.
If you have deeper sources of water in your garden, such as water butts, these represent a hazard to birds. Desperate for a drink, they may be attracted to the water and land on it but may then struggle to get out again. Provide ramps for the birds to climb onto or keep butts covered to enhance avian safety.
You Don’t Bring Me Flowers
Contemporary gardens tend to be very formal and may not feature a suitable mix of planting for the songbirds. To attract more birds, change your planting to include bushes for cover, shelter and nesting. Try to feature berries to provide food and also consider planting flowers which attract insects. Perennials like verbena, rudbeckia & some sunflowers will add colour and represent a good source of nectar for bees and other pollinators. Don’t cut these down before spring as they will also provide winter food for finches.
It is best to avoid the use of pesticides in your garden as these chemicals are toxic to all animals. They also kill off the insects which are an important source of food for many creatures. If you design your planting to attract butterflies and ladybirds, these beautiful visitors will clean up the aphids which eat your plants.
Food Glorious Food
Music might be the food of love but birds need something a little more substantial if they are to survive the winter months! By putting out a few bird feeders in your garden you can make a huge difference. Do a little research to discover the best treats to attract your favourite species as there are plenty of options including nyger seeds, black sunflower seeds and suet fat balls.
Always keep your feeders clean to prevent harmful bacteria from forming and hang the feeders close to the cover of bushes and trees whilst being mindful of feline predators and enterprising squirrels. Tree branches are not a good place to feature feeders if there are cats in the neighbourhood. Mount squirrel proof feeders on poles to ensure that the birds can feed safely and that there will be food left for them to take.
Your home could also feature little houses for the birds. Nesting boxes provide the safe havens and shelter that songbirds need to protect their eggs and rear their young. Wooden boxes are the best choice as this natural material prevents the birds from overheating. You may enjoy a splash of bright colour and find yourself attracted to quirky designs but your feathered visitors will prefer muted shades and simplicity when it comes their homes.
Nesting boxes should not include a perch beneath the access hole as this simply helps potential predators to get to the birds. You should decide which species you are most interested in hosting and choose a nesting box of the appropriate size. Position any nesting boxes so that they are facing between north and east to protect them from the worst of the sun and wet winds.
Hunting High and Low
You are able to create a haven for the birds in your garden but be careful that you don’t also design a haven for their predators! If you want the birds to be safe, you need to keep out the local cats! Planting thorny bushes beneath feeders and nesting boxes will always help as will reinforcing your perimeters. Include reflective surfaces in the garden like old cd’s as cats tend to be wary of these. Cover the uprights of your feeders in plastic tubing as this will make it impossible for cats to climb them. In addition, cats don’t like the odour of the plant Coleus canina so feature a few of these together with some citrus fragrance as cats don’t appreciate that particular aroma!
Back for Good
If we all transformed our gardens into better habitats for birds many of the species in decline could recover considerably. It doesn’t take much effort or a significant investment to make a big difference and to bring back that wonderful dawn chorus for good.