How to identify garden birds

How to attract birds to your garden

Learn how to create a garden that will be attractive to birds, from choosing the right plants to putting out food.

A decline in natural habitats means that our gardens are more important than ever for birds.

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To attract birds, your garden needs to be attractive to them all year round. A bird-friendly garden not only offers food but water, shelter, nesting sites and protection from predators.

If you’ve put out food but birds aren’t visiting your garden, work out how you can make it more attractive – are there places for birds to shelter or take cover from predators, for example? And be patient – it can take time for birds to routinely visit your garden.

More garden birds content:

Here are some ways to attract birds to your garden.


Provide natural food sources

Vivid-red berberis berries
Vivid-red berberis berries

Feeding birds with supplementary foods is very useful but it’s important to provide natural food, too. Berries and seeds are especially important. Lawns are a feeding ground for many birds, including robins, blackbirds and song thrushes. Find out how to grow your own bird food.


Provide shelter

Mature ivy growing over a support
Mature ivy growing over a support

Birds need shelter from the cold, especially on cold, winter nights. Dense, evergreen conifers, trees and shrubs are especially good, as is mature ivy. Some birds, including tits and wrens, will shelter in empty nest boxes, snuggling together for warmth.


Provide water

Pouring water into a bird bath
Pouring water into a bird bath

Birds need a supply of water at all times, to drink and to bathe in. Bathing is especially important in winter – it makes feathers easier to preen, keeping them waterproof and insulating. Shelter it from predators and keep it clean and fresh. Ensure it doesn’t freeze over in winter and defrost if needed with some hot water from a kettle. Find out how to make a bird bath.


Provide supplementary food

Placing fat balls into a wire bird feeder hanging from a tree in a snowy garden
Placing fat balls into a wire bird feeder hanging from a tree in a snowy garden

Feeding birds in winter is essential – it helps them conserve energy and get through cold nights. But food shortages can happen at any time, so keep feeders topped up all year round – birds will rely on them. Put up a mix of foods to attract a range of species. Discover which foods suit different birds.

Discover which different types of bird food are suitable for which garden birds, in this No Fuss video guide:

Watch our No Fuss video guide with Kate Bradbury, on how to make fat cakes for the birds:


Provide nesting sites

A mature hedgerow
A mature hedgerow

Put nest boxes in a sheltered spot, away from predators.

Find out more about nest boxes, in our No Fuss video guide:

Watch here how to make your own bird box:

If you can, provide natural nest sites, too, such as a dense native hedge – which will also provide food. Don’t prune hedges between March to July if birds are nesting.

Here, Monty Don explains how he manages his hedges for nesting birds:


Protect from cats and other predators

A tit on a wire bird feeder containing peanuts, hanging high in a tree
A tit on a wire bird feeder containing peanuts, hanging high in a tree

Birds won’t visit if they don’t feel safe. They like to be able to check for predators like cats and sparrowhawks, and need somewhere to retreat to quickly. Put feeders next to some cover, such as a tree, hedge or climber-covered fence. A prickly shrub beneath a bird feeder can help to deter cats. Move your bird feeders from time to time to break up the routine of predators like sparrowhawks.


Practise good hygiene

Scrubbing a wire bird feeder, wearing rubber gloves
Scrubbing a wire bird feeder, wearing rubber gloves

Be sure to clean bird feeders, tables and baths regularly, to avoid a build up of bacteria and fungal spores that could kill visiting birds. Read our advice on cleaning bird feeders.


Clean your bird feeders

Pouring peanuts into a wire bird feeder from a bag
Pouring peanuts into a wire bird feeder from a bag

Don’t let bird food go off. If your feeders are taking an age to go down, just put out small amounts of fresh food at a time and keep the rest in airtight containers. Feeding rates will rise during cold weather, when you can increase the supply.


Use quality bird food

Bird feeding station, with fat balls, peanuts and bird seed
Bird feeding station, with fat balls, peanuts and bird seed
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Buy good quality bird food. It’ll cost a little more, but is well worth choosing bird seed from reputable brands. Cheaper mixes will contain ‘fillers’ such as millet or wheat, which are loved by pigeons but that most garden birds won’t or can’t eat.


Bird-specific advice

  • Starlings love to feed on grubs in the lawn, so don’t use pesticides, and put up special starling nestboxes
  • House sparrows enjoy sunflower hearts. They’ll also benefit from nestboxes with 32mm diameter holes
  • Greenfinches like feeding from hanging feeders. Keep their feeding areas clean to prevent diseases. Wearing gloves, use a weak disinfectant to clean feeders and swish them out with hot water
  • Blue tits, finches and other tits will devour sunflower hearts. Offer bug nibbles for long-tailed tits
  • Thrushes wil enjoy a fruity mix on the ground – leftover, windfall or damaged apples are ideal
  • Robins love mealworms, either on the ground or on a table. Dried ones are fine, although fresh make a welcome treat

Blue tit. Photo: Getty Images.