How to attract birds to your garden

4th June 2021

How to attract birds to your garden

This year has given us all an unprecedented amount of time to enjoy our gardens and outdoor spaces and grow an appreciation for the natural world that surrounds us.


A new survey commissioned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has revealed that lockdown has brought many of us closer to the natural world, with 41% seeing wildlife near their homes over the last 12 months that they had never noticed before. In fact 63% of people said watching the birds and hearing their song added to their enjoyment of life since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.


Over the past 50 years the numbers of many so called ‘common’ birds have dramatically declined. It’s likely that this is as a result of changing agricultural practices and a lack of food in the summer and winter. It’s difficult to believe that song thrushes, sparrows and starlings are all struggling to survive in the countryside, but they are. These, among many others, are now red listed as birds of extreme conservation concern.


So we thought that we would put together some tips to attract our feathered friends into our gardens. Plus, some ways that you can get involved in tracking those birds to assist the experts trying to protect them.


Plus, if you are moving house but have a thriving community of birds in your garden - what do you do? We have some advice.


Grow native plants


Naturally growing plants can provide shelter and food for our birds. The more plants you have the more likely the variety of insects that the birds can feed on. Avoid using pesticides as they will kill off birds’ natural prey and poison the food chain, so instead, let the birds act as natural pest control.


Provide food


Supplementary feeding can ensure that your garden supports many different birds. If enough gardens provide food, water and shelter it creates essential corridors for wildlife to move along and live in.


You can feed birds right through the year. In winter food is hard to find, so supplementing a bird's natural food can be essential to their survival. In spring adults are busy trying to raise their young. So they hunt all day to find the right food but also need to feed themselves. A well-fed parent is better able to gather food for its babies. In summer and autumn birds use energy moulting into their winter plumage and need to start to building up their fat reserves ready for winter.


There are many ways to feed birds. Bird tables can be freestanding or hung from a tree and become a platter for seeds, chopped apples (wash them first if bought), cereal, bacon rind, biscuit crumbs, raisins and cooked potato. Fatty balls or suet blocks are a valuable source of energy and especially popular with the tit family, however please avoid netted fatty balls as birds have been known to get tangled!


Metal feeders are mainly used for dispensing peanuts and seed tubes will attract a wide range of birds when filled with sunflower hearts or mixed seed. Ensure the feeders are filled and cleaned regularly as the birds will begin to rely on them as one of their food sources.


You can find more information on feeding the birds in this great guide from the RSPB.


Keep an eye out for chicks on the ground


It can be quite distressing to find a helpless bird outside of its nest. But you may be doing more harm than good if you try to interfere. If the bird is hopping about, it’s likely to be a fledgling, being fed and watched over by nearby parents until it has learned to fly.


If it looks too small for that then you could attempt to put it back in the nest if you can see it. The parents won’t abandon the chick if it smells of humans – that’s just a myth. But if all else fails, the only place it should be taken away to is to an expert wildlife rehabilitation centre – don’t try to raise it yourself, it is extremely unlikely to survive.

Stop your cat from catching birds!


A shocking 55 million birds are killed by cats each year and a total of approximately 275 million animals are killed overall each year. These figures are alarming to read and it is worth remembering that this is only in the UK. Cats are natural hunters and sadly they will hunt and kill wildlife for fun. As responsible cat owners we can try to curb their natural instinct using a few simple tactics.


The RSPB have a number of suggestions and these include putting a bell on your cat's collar. However the collar must be correctly fitted and should have a quick release mechanism to allow the cat to free itself, should it become snagged. There are also commercially-available sonic collars which are designed to alert the potential prey to the cat’s presence. You can also try keeping your cat indoors when birds are most vulnerable: at least an hour before sunset and an hour after sunrise, especially during March-July and December-January, and also after bad weather, such as rain or a cold spell, to allow birds to come out and feed. The RSPB also advises that feeders should be placed about 2m from dense vegetation, preventing surprise attacks from cats but giving birds easy access to cover. Place nest boxes where cats cannot get close, as they might prevent parent birds from getting to the box.


Install bird boxes


Modern buildings may be warmer and drier, but one thing they tend to lack is convenient nesting holes. Nest boxes are the perfect solution, and come in all shapes and sizes depending on the species you want to attract. They’re pretty simple to construct – but remember never to paint the insides. If you do, they may be too slippery for young birds to clamber out of when it’s time to fledge – and it may be toxic, too. And if you must paint the outside, keep it a light colour to reflect the sun’s heat – nobody wants to live in an oven! If you would like a family project to while away the hours, here are the instructions to make the perfect bird box.


Provide water


Birds need water for drinking and bathing. Water is particularly important during the winter when natural supplies may be frozen and in dry, hot weather during the summer when water can be hard to find.


Birds have no sweat glands, so they need less water than mammals. However, they do lose water through respiration and in their droppings. Most small birds need to drink at least twice a day to replace the lost water.


Water is freely available to small birds at the shallow edges of ponds and streams. They may also drink water droplets that form on leaves, especially if they live in woodland. Aerial species such as swallows and swifts swoop down onto a water body and scoop up a beak full of water while still in flight. Very impressive!


Most birds drink by dipping their bill in water and throwing their head back to swallow. Pigeons and doves are able to immerse their beaks and can drink continuously.


Ponds attract a great variety of wildlife, which in turn attract a wealth of fascinating bird species for you to enjoy from your window. But even a bird bath will work wonders, while providing countless photo opportunities for the keen photographer. It only needs to be a few centimetres deep for the birds to drink and bathe – just make sure you keep it clean to prevent birds catching diseases. A layer of algae, dead leaves or bird droppings will soon build up, so give the bath a thorough clean every week or so. You can use dilute household disinfectants, but make sure that you rinse the bath out thoroughly to remove any traces of chemicals.


Help track birds


At this time of year you can assist the experts by logging the birds you see in your garden. For example, Swifts pair for life and meet up at the same nest site in the UK each spring – usually in gaps under roof tiles and in the eaves of buildings. But as more and more old buildings are demolished or renovated, many swifts are returning to discover their nest site is gone.


By telling the RSPB where you see nesting swifts you’ll help to build a picture of where swift nest sites need to be protected and where it would be best to provide new nest sites.


With fun accessible schemes such as Give Nature a Home and the Big Garden Birdwatch, the RSPB will continue to transform gardens across the country into mini nature reserves. Building a movement and weaving the UK’s landscape into a tapestry of connected wild spaces. You can be a part of it too - and don’t forget to share your sightings with us, we’d love to know if this blog has helped you transform the birdlife in your garden.


Finally - what if you are moving house?


If you’ve been feeding and attracting birds into your garden then it can be an upsetting thought that the new owners may not feel the same. There are two thoughts on this. You can begin to scale down the food that you are putting out for them to encourage them to look for food elsewhere or you can leave all your feeders and some food for the new owners with instructions. You could even leave them a bird spotting book to encourage some enthusiasm.