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Welcoming Birds Back into our Gardens

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

Written by Freddie Emms

Artwork by Anagha Ramesh



What is Conservation?

Conservation is an incredibly diverse word. Whilst the word immediately conjures up, for many, ideas of exotic and extravagant wildlife protection programs in the Amazon rainforest or the African savannahs, conservation is, in reality, something that is so much more accessible to people on an everyday basis than it may initially seem.




Though it can be easy to disassociate from the idea of conservation due to this stereotypical view, in fact, each and every one of us has the power, and the ability, to contribute to conservation from our gardens or local green spaces, and to make a tangible difference to the welfare of our bird life.


Sadly, over the decades we have driven nature and birds further and further away from our lives, in many respects. Our gardens have become increasingly beautified and manicured, increasingly smothered in concrete, to further our deluded idea that we are somehow able to control the natural world by keeping it cut back to within an inch of its life. And this steadily increasing lack of wild plant biodiversity has knock-on effects throughout the entire ecosystem. If we cannot make way for unkempt patches of nature, for wildflowers and trees and shrubs, we remove the vital foodplants of insects, including bees and butterflies, which in turn reduces the amount of food available for our beautiful bird life.


One of the simplest, and most rewarding ways, that you can make a difference not just for birds, but for the entirety of your local wildlife, is to initiate small changes in your garden or local green space to invite nature to finally reclaim these spaces that it once was such an integral part of, and to live in closer harmony with us humans once again.


The three pinnacles that form the basis of all species’ needs in nature, allowing them to survive and thrive in their habitats, are plentiful food, water, and shelter. If we can provide our birds with these three necessities in our gardens, the effects will be bountiful and the birds will come flocking back in droves to these places that they once knew so well. Let’s take a closer look at each of these in turn, and focus on ways in which you can provide your local wildlife with these essentials.


Food

Arguably the most obvious way you can support the dietary needs of your avian friends is by providing them with supplementary food sources such as bird feeders. These can be filled with seeds, nuts and fat balls to provide the birds with the essential energy needed to power them through the year. These kinds of supplementary foods are particularly vital during the winter months, when food may be scarce, and during the breeding season (generally between March and August).


But although birds will certainly thank you for the extra meals, bird seed can be expensive to buy on an ongoing basis, and with the recommendation to clean your bird feeders at least once a week to avoid the spread of diseases, this may not be a feasible choice for anyone short of money, or time. Instead, you can also support birds by turning to nature for a long-term, self-replenishing solution. Being considerate of what you plant in your garden, and introducing shrubs that produce nutritious seeds and berries naturally, without you even having to intervene, can be a fantastic way of feeding the birds and yet also saving money in the long term. You no longer have to feel bad about neglecting the birds because of a lack of time or money. Any berry or seed-producing shrub can benefit a bird-friendly garden, but having a range of species is especially helpful. Excellent choices include Holly, Pyracantha, Mountain Ash, Crab Apple, Yew, Ivy and Mahonia.



Water

Like most life on Earth, birds need access to a supply of water all year round. They make use of the multifaceted life-sustaining liquid by using it to bathe, keep their feathers in good condition, and of course to drink. It has been said that arguably the very best thing you can do for any wildlife in your garden is to introduce a pond, however small, and this goes for birds too. They provide a plentiful source of drinking water, while also attracting amphibians and other water-dwelling creatures as a life-sustaining habitat.



However, maintaining a pond involves a certain willingness to battle the ever-changing seasons. In summer, during particularly hot and dry periods (which are becoming all too common), there is the possibility of smaller ponds drying out, while winter brings with it frost and ponds frequently freeze over. Providing additional sources of water throughout your garden that are easier to regularly clean and replenish can, therefore, be vital for birds during difficult times, and may often mean the difference between survival and death if other water sources are scarce.


Shelter

While food and water are undoubtedly vital for attracting birds to your garden, the third essential pillar is the way to encourage them to stay. Birds need shelter at night to roost and stay protected from predators, as well as places to build their nests when the breeding season comes around. Larger birds such as starlings and woodpigeons prefer to roost in trees, of which dense conifers provide the most protection from the elements, while smaller birds favor shrubs and hedges, with evergreen specimens being the ideal year-round roost.


If your particular green space is lacking in large shrubs, or in space, artificial nesting sites such as nest boxes are a great way of encouraging birds to combat a lack of natural greenery. These generally become inhabited by birds such as robins, sparrows and tits, and need to be positioned in a sheltered area somewhere they won’t be disturbed by humans and animals, though with a clear flight path to the box’s entrance. It is best to clean any nest boxes once a year, in winter, in order to prevent any pests or diseases from spreading to the occupants of next year’s season. There is nothing quite like the discovery that a breeding pair of birds has decided, out of all potential spots in the country, to choose the very nest box that you put up for them, against all odds. The faint hint of young chicks chirping in the box in late summer, a sign that your endeavors have served the birds well and allowed them breeding success, cannot fail to make a person proud, serving as a clear reminder of the reasons for which it is essential to preserve our precious bird life in any ways we can.



If you are able to support our feathered friends by implementing just a few of the practices described above, you will undoubtedly receive immeasurable thanks in the form of the knowledge that you, and you alone, have helped a particular flock of birds to make it through the most trying times of the year, and just maybe, if the season was right and the winds fair, they will produce the delight and majesty of new life right before your very eyes. You will have aided not only the current generation through their hardships, but also furnished for the birth of a brand new one. And that, through everything that is happening to our natural world all across the planet, has got to be worth something.


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