Guide to helping birds
Helping your local bird population can be as rewarding for you as it is for them! Anyone can help birds, whatever their age - it’s a great way of teaching children about wildlife from a young age. We have compiled a guide of the top things you can do, all year round to help birds.
- Make your garden a natural ‘oasis’ for birds
Planting native trees provides excellent nest sites, nest material and valuable cover and protection against the elements and predators. A good selection of fruit bearing shrubs provide an excellent rich food source for birds. Plant these at varying heights to create a tiered effect, this will give different species a multitude of places to visit in your garden without having to compete for space. Remember to consider which shrubs will be best in certain seasons, evergreen shrubs for example are great sources of shelter. You can also plant flowers with nectar that attract insects, these are great for birds feeding their young in the springtime.
2. Use safe birdhouses
Bird’s natural nesting sites are depleting fast, so it’s helpful to your local bird population to provide nest boxes during nesting season. Ensure you choose a safe design without perches to keep predators away from eggs and baby birds. Positioning of nestboxes is vital, between north and east is usually advised as this avoids strong sunlight and harsh winds, unless there are buildings that shade the box or it is sheltered from the weather. Nest boxes should be placed during autumn, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get any birds nesting the first year, be patient, if a box is not used for several years, it may be an idea to move the box to a more suitable location. Why not take a look at our helpful step-by-step guide to making your own nestbox.
3. Create a clean water source
Bird baths and garden water features are a great way of providing a source of water to our feathered friends. Try and provide a basin that has a shallow slope so birds can wade into the water, a rough textured surface is also ideal to avoid birds slipping. The location you chose to place your bird bath will determine how often your bath is visited, the birds need to feel safe. Try and ensure there is nowhere for cats to hide and pounce on bathing birds. It is also advised to have shrubbery nearby so birds have somewhere to preen themselves or make a quick escape from predators. Try and keep the bird bath clean by regularly removing droppings or mud that may have built up in the water.
4. Feed the birds
Birdseed isn’t the only suitable food you can feed the birds, a cost effective way of looking
after birds is by feeding them kitchen scraps! The food that you might otherwise throw away can be a nutritional food source for birds. Offer scraps in limited quantities or supply with birdseed to keep a regular balance of the two. Foods such as cheese, pasta, rice, potatoes, pastry, fruit, cereal, nuts and eggs can contain essential fats and carbohydrates that may be missing from seed mixes. There are many different types of seeds you can provide that will attract a variety of species. So if you are looking to attract a certain type of bird it is best to research the food that they favour.
5. Clean Bird Feeders
If you use bird feeders or feeding stations, it is important to keep them clean. A dirty feeding area spreads diseases such as avian pox and conjunctivitis, even one infected bird can spread the illness to an unlucky flock. The best way to clean them is usually with a 5% disinfectant solution and hot water with a hard scrubbing brush - make sure you wear gloves. You can now buy veterinary disinfectant which you can spray on feeders once cleaned, this should kill any harmful bacteria.
6. Participate in Bird counts
Many projects need helpers to gather data on birds in their habitat. Bird counting is a fun, free and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time guide to bird populations. People who choose to participate are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes or as long as they like for one or more days and report their sightings online at rspb.
7. Don’t use pesticides or herbicides
Pesticides and herbicides such as weed killers and lawn treatments can be highly toxic to birds, so it is best to avoid using them altogether. Not only can these substances be harmful to birds, they also kill off insects which are eaten by birds. Whilst no chemicals are completely safe to use in your garden, there are a few choices available which are considered less toxic to birds, so read the labels carefully when choosing what to use in your garden.
8. Pick up Litter
Keeping bird’s habitats clean and litter free is vital - small pieces of litter may not seem like much to us, but it can be extremely hazardous to birds in a variety of ways. They may be injured by sharp objects that cut them or can swallow items that cause digestive problems, blocking the passage of food and eventually starving the bird. Fishing line or other objects can become wrapped around birds and cause injuries so bad they are sometimes fatal. Toxic litter such as lead casings, heavily mouldy food or cigarette butts can be poisonous to birds if ingested. Birds often mistake cigarette butts for food and feed them to their young, who end up starving to death with their stomachs full up with something impossible to digest.
9. Go plastic free
Careless disposal of plastic bags can have a detrimental effect on birds, birds often become entangled in plastic bags making them unable to fly, they die of starvation. Reduce your use of disposable plastic products, by reusing and recycling what you can. Wherever possible buy reusable grocery bags to cut down on plastic bag use.
10. Support local bird charities
There are a variety of small, local charities which specialise in the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured birds or wildlife. They usually run entirely on donations, so financial help is always welcomed. If you can’t make a cash donation, consider volunteering your time to help out, you can even donate any supplies you may have laying around your house that may be extremely useful to the charities such as cleaning supplies or bedding.
And finally, enjoy yourself! The birds can’t thank you but they’re definitely appreciative of your help to keep them safe and healthy.