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How to attract birds to your garden

PUBLISHED: 12:17 27 January 2017 | UPDATED: 12:17 27 January 2017

A Great tit Parus major, in a garden. PA Photo/rspb-images.com

A Great tit Parus major, in a garden. PA Photo/rspb-images.com

PA Photo/rspb-images.com

There are many ways to attract birds to your garden - for this weekend's Big Garden Birdwatch and beyond - if you plant species which will provide them with both food and shelter.

A Woodpigeon Columba palumbus, on RSPB bird table. PA Photo/Chris Gomersall/rspb-images.comA Woodpigeon Columba palumbus, on RSPB bird table. PA Photo/Chris Gomersall/rspb-images.com

No doubt bird feeders and baths will be filled by many of us in the run-up to the annual Big Garden Birdwatch, the world’s largest garden wildlife survey, which this year takes place from January 28-30.

Blackbirds and thrushes love the fruits and berries of plants including rowan, berberis and pyracantha, while ivy berries, which ripen later, are invaluable to hungry birds in late winter and early spring when food can be scarce.

If you have room, consider planting an apple tree - birds love both cooking and dessert apples and crab apples, whose windfalls can provide them with food in the leaner months. Early varieties of eating apples such as ‘Beauty of Bath’ and ‘Discovery’ don’t keep well, so pick and eat what you need and leave the rest for your blackbirds, song and mistle thrushes, chaffinches, redwings and fieldfares.

Of course, you don’t want the birds stripping your garden of all its colour, so consider planting some shrubs whose fruits they don’t particularly like, including skimmia, aucuba and the guilder rose (Viburnum opulus).

Hedging can also provide a great nesting site for birds, shelter during frosty nights and food. Bare root hedging is widely available from nurseries and garden centres from November to mid-April.

Holly is slow-growing, but is among the most effective hedges for birds. It ensures windproof shelter on frosty nights, nesting opportunities in spring and berries that attract blackbirds, thrushes and other birds. In spring, insects will be attracted to its flowers.

The hawthorn is another great hedging plant if you want to attract birds. The dark red haws are a magnet for redwings and fieldfares in the winter, and its prickly stems ensure good nesting places for finches, dunnocks, robins and blackbirds.

The black berries of the dogwood, a British native, will attract birds including finches, robins, pigeons, thrushes and starlings.

A range of relatively simple measures can be recommended which could help reduce the risk of cats catching garden birds, especially where food is being put out for birds, according to the RSPB.

Place spiny plants (such as holly) or an uncomfortable surface around the base of the feeding station to prevent cats sitting underneath it.

Plant wildlife-friendly vegetation, such as prickly bushes and thick climbers in the garden to provide secure cover for birds. These should be close enough to where birds feed to provide cover, but not so close that cats can use it to stalk birds. This kind of planting may also provide food and nesting sites.

If you can bear to have an area of brambles in a quiet corner of the garden, birds should gravitate towards it. Blackbirds, thrushes, chaffinches, starlings, robins, pheasants, foxes, mice and other small mammals eat the fruits, while robins, wrens, thrushes, blackbirds, warblers and finches will nest in bramble and small mammals use it for protection from predators.

So, what are we likely to see during Big Garden Birdwatch?

Sightings of well-known species such as starlings and song thrushes experienced another drop during the event last year, although we spotted more than 8.5 million birds in total. The house sparrow remained top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings, with starling and blue tit rounding off the top three.

Daniel Hayhow, RSPB conservation scientist, says: “With over half a million people now regularly taking part, coupled with over 30 years worth of data, Big Garden Birdwatch allows us to monitor trends and helps us understand how birds are doing.

“With results from so many gardens, we are able to create a ‘snapshot’ of the birds visiting at this time of year across the UK. Even if you see nothing during your Big Garden Birdwatch hour, that’s important information too, so please let us know.”

Big Garden Birdwatch takes place from January 28-30. For more information, visit rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

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