Transform your garden into a bird sanctuary

Liven up your garden with colour and song this winter by inviting your local birds to a tasty feast of nuts and treats, washed down with some cool, clean water. This is a great time for a spot of twitching, since birds are easier to see when plants are stripped bare of their leafy camouflage, and you may be surprised at the number of different species that pay you a visit at this time of year. Here's how to get the party started...

First, set up a bird café, with an assortment of feeders and smorgasbord of tempting foods. Check out ACHICA's Best for Birds range of squirrel-proof nut and seed feeders, which are ideal for tits and finches, or buy one of these gorgeous porcelain birds from Greenman Ceramics – this little one looks great set among the plants in my flowerbed.

You’ll find the widest choice of food for different types of bird from specialist companies like Vine House Farm, which not only offers great value but also gives 5% of their takings to the Wildlife Trusts. While many birds are happy with nuts and seeds, others, including blackbirds, sparrows and robins, prefer feeding from tables or ground feeders, and like to dine out on fatty foods and live mealworms – yum! You can also supplement bought food with kitchen scraps, such as bacon rinds, dry porridge oats, grated cheese, baked potatoes, apples, raisins, and stale bread or cake that’s been soaked in water.

As well as food, birds need water for drinking and bathing, which keeps their plumage in good condition. You can make a small pond in an afternoon – just dig a hole with gently sloping sides, remove any large or sharp stones, and line it with a layer of old carpet topped with butyl pond liner. Finish it off by laying large, flat stones around the edge to keep the liner in place and disguise the plastic.

A wooden half barrel, filled with water and pond plants, makes a great bird-friendly feature for a patio or courtyard garden. Line the barrel with butyl pond liner and pin it in place at the top with small stainless steel nails. Then add a pile of bricks or large stones to create a perch for thirsty birds.

If you don’t have the space or time to make a pond, opt for a decorative bird bath. I’m tempted by the beautiful Best for Birds cast iron small bird bath from ACHICA, which would look great on a garden table or a sturdy upturned log. Don’t locate your bird bath beneath a feeder, as the bird droppings and seeds will pollute the water, and remember to clean it out regularly and fill with fresh water every day or two.

As spring approaches, birds start to look around for suitable nesting sites, so now is a good time to put up nest boxes. Small birds, such as blue tits, prefer boxes with little round holes at the front, while robins and bigger birds are more at home in nests with larger openings. Fix your nest box securely to a tree, wall, fence or post, at least 1.5m (5ft) from the ground, with the opening facing away from the prevailing wind. Place the box a few metres from your house, where you can spy on your burgeoning bird family without disturbing them, and take extra care when positioning boxes if you have cats –my garden birds are not fooled by the neighbour’s moggy who, despite his clever disguise as a cute fluffy bundle, spends his life stalking innocent feathery victims.

For loads more advice on caring for birds and other wildlife in your garden, take at peek at Jackie Bennett’s excellent book, Your Wildlife Garden Month-by-Month, published by David and Charles, which is packed with great tips and easy projects to do throughout the year.

Check out the Best for Birds garden promotion this weekend at ACHICA here.

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Zia Allaway, Garden Expert

View all posts by Zia Allaway, Garden Expert