There are many ways to make our gardens a safer, more secure place for garden birds. These include creating wildlife hedges and other dense areas of planting, planting trees, putting up bird boxes and providing food.
However, in the process of helping birds, it’s possible to do more harm than good.
For example, badly maintained bird boxes can harbour diseases, salt in home-made bird food can be very harmful and trimming hedges at the wrong time can injure or kill birds.
Find out how to reduce the risk of harm to birds in your garden, below.
Bird baths and feeders
If not cleaned, anywhere that birds frequently congregate such as bird baths and feeders can harbour diseases. Both are well-worth having in the garden, but bird baths and bird feeders should be cleaned every month or so. Find out how to maintain a bird bath and how to clean bird feeders.
The best time to cut hedges is in late summer, by which point most garden birds will have finished raising their brood, and the growth on the hedge will still be soft enough to be trimmed easily. Cutting while they’re still nesting can lead birds to abandon their nests, including any eggs or young inside. Before cutting, it’s worth checking anyway to be sure no birds are nesting within. Discover how to prune a wildlife hedge.
Once birds have vacated bird boxes in autumn, it’s important to clear out the old nest and clean the bird box, as they can harbour mites, ticks and other parasites. Boil a kettle and pour the water over the box to kill any parasites. Once fully dry, you can add wood shavings or hay to the box, which will encourage birds and small mammals to use the box over winter. Find out how to convert a nest box into a winter roost.
When feeding birds, it’s important to avoid putting out anything that contains salt, which could included salted nuts, sunflower seeds and suet. This includes leftovers, too, such as pastry and meat fats, which can smear a bird’s feathers in greasy oils. Find out how to make fat cakes using suet or lard.
Insects and other invertebrates make up the majority of the diet of many garden birds, including lots of organisms that are considered pests, like aphids, slugs and caterpillars. Chemical pesticides can work their way up the food chain, with potentially detrimental effects on birds. Try using one of these organic pest solutions instead.
Netting and meshes can be used to protect fruit and veg crops from hungry birds, particularly pigeons. However, if the netting is slack it can be easier for them to get entangled in it. Use fruit cages or hoops to make a frame over which the netting can be pulled taut. Make sure it always remains taut, and check regularly in case any birds are trapped.
Cats are controversial – they’re lovable companions for millions but undoubtedly hunt garden birds and other wildlife. If you’re a cat owner, one of the best things you can do is to attach a bell to your cat’s collar, which has been shown to reduce the incidence of birds being caught. Place bird tables and feeders within a few metres of some dense planting, giving birds a close source of refuge, and site bird boxes well out of a cat’s reach. Ideally keep cats indoors around dawn and dusk, for example by feeding them indoors at these times, which is when most garden birds are most active and vulnerable.