Casual Gardener: Gardening's for the birds

A blue tit – Parus caeruleus - at home in a suburban garden

Increasing numbers are gardening with birds in mind...

MAYBE it's just a sign of getting old but these days everybody seems to be interested in garden birds. Urban and rural gardeners alike enjoy sharing their spaces with birds, adding feeders, nesting boxes and bird baths in an effort to boost avian footfall. I like to think that if you've followed the general advice of this column since its inception then there's been a steady increase in the number of birds that visit your garden. Chemical free-gardening, plenty of native plant species and a decent sized pond/water feature – elements regularly espoused here – are a surefire strategy for attracting visiting birdlife, while thick hedges and ivy make perfect roosting and nesting sites.

The RSPB has this week been highlighting the ways you can make your garden more feather friendly with tales of some novel nesting spots. In Kent in southern England, a collared dove made its home in a couple's geranium pots, while a Nottingham hanging basket filled with winter pansies, ornamental grass and cineraria silverdust was where a pair of grey wagtail sought to raise their family.

While it is not the norm for birds to nest in flowerpots, if they feel safe they may decide that your garden, balcony, or even windowsill is the best place to raise their chicks. The RSPB stresses the importance of gardens as bird habitats, with those in the north alone adding up an area bigger than Greater Belfast, which is a whole lot of potential nesting spaces.

The RSPB recommends five wildlife-friendly, easy-growing plants that'll boost biodiversity and birdlife:

:: Sunflowers – beautiful and easy to grow from seed, these classic flowers are great for pollinators and are a great food source for birds when they set seed;

::Cornfield annuals – for just a couple of pounds you can have the glow of red poppies and blue cornflowers within weeks;

:: Mini-meadow – Across the country this month, many gardeners will be locking up their lawn mowers and taking part in #NoMowMay. Letting parts of your lawn grow for a few months, or even better until late summer, means you could be rewarded with drifts of clovers and other meadow flowers abuzz with pollinators;

:: Lavender - the familiar lovely-smelling herb that's brilliant for bees and butterflies;

::Foxgloves - tall purple, pink and white flowers that are bee magnets.

While you wait for your plants to grow, you can give parent birds a helping hand by putting out a saucer of clean water as well as some food. Some favourite foods include sunflower seeds, raisins, mild grated cheese, mealworms, or even soft apples and pears, or bananas and grapes. Avoid putting out peanuts though unless they're in a suitable mesh feeder, as chicks can choke on larger pieces.

It's also important to not disturb the nests, wherever you find them, and to resist the urge to intervene if you see a young bird on the ground. Once young birds have wings large enough to fly, they often spend a day or two on the ground while they learn to use them. Thankfully the parents are normally close by keeping an eye on them and so it's best to give any nests or chicks you come across a wide berth. If you see a baby bird on the ground without feathers and are 100 per cent sure of the nest it has fallen out of, you can try gently putting it back in the nest.

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