The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

How to attract birds to your winter garden. Part one: setting up

robin on bird tableMost of the houses that I work in have a conservatory. The majority of them have a pair of binoculars lying on a windowsill. Not for observing the neighbours but for watching birds that visit their gardens.

When I look at a client’s bird table I often wonder whether a lot of the birds do the rounds. Is it the same belligerent gang of long tailed tits that took turns to eat our fat balls this morning? And do my precious collared doves actually belong to families all over the village?

To encourage bird visitors, we plant shrubs that produce berries and plants that attract insects. But bird tables and feeders are the main focus for our bird watching. We have a large bird table at the back of the house, just a few feet from a small window. A handy distraction during a long telephone call. The bird table has a sloping roof, which keeps the food dry.

We also hang three feeders in a shrub just outside our south west facing kitchen window. The birds are just a foot away from the sink. We see intricacies that would be missed from a distance. I had no idea that even the tiniest seeds are shelled before they are eaten. The shrub feeders provide a magical show. Often I look up from the kitchen table and the bush is full of birds. We are lucky; we don’t need race glasses to observe their antics.

In the winter, I make sure that the bird books are to hand. Each year we learn to recognise a few more species. My mother gave us a copy of the comprehensive Reader’s Digest Field Guide to the Birds of Brtain This and a book I found in a sale at Homebase Attracting Birds to Your Garden by Stephen Moss and David Cottridge provide us with a great breadth of reference. The Stephen Moss books has photographs and I find that these are great for identification.

Proper twitchers would probably smirk at our books. Even though we are bird watching beginners we have a lot of fun. I’ve just spotted that Amazon are selling an updated illustrated version of the latter book bunched with Gardman bird table for under twenty quid The Complete Garden Bird Book: How to Identify and Attract Birds to Your Garden. What a great Christmas present.

We attract a large range of birds to the garden by varying the food. Different foods attract different birds. When I just put out peanuts we got mainly tits. Now I try and put out food to attract the widest range of birds (I will be giving details of which food attracts which species in the next post in this series). We buy most of the food in bulk and store it near the feeders in a galvanised, rat proof bin. A decent trowel shaped scoop is useful too. Most of the horse requisite suppliers sell them and the plastic ones are cheapest. The old fashioned metal ones are a bit pricey but they last for years. In the winter I use a scoop each morning to give the chickens some wild bird seed and top up the bird table. Our scoops live beside the back door inside Danny’s capacious Wellington Boots.

It’s important to clean bird feeders and tables at the start of the winter. Dirty equipment can harbour germs and spread disease amongst the birds that visit. When I’ve got an hour to spare in the Autumn I give all our equipment a good clean before the cold weather really sets in.

The best cleaning solution that I have found is Citrox. That’s the stuff that is used the wash greenhouses. It’s safe for plants, children, pets and birds and will knock any diseases on the head. I make up a solution in a spray bottle and apply the liquid liberally, having scraped any debris off the feeders. A strong salt solution would also do the trick, especially on wooden feeders and bird tables. Years ago I worked in a London restaurant and the chefs always sprinkled salt on their chopping blocks at the end of the evening to kill the bugs.

Birds need access to water. If you don’t have a pond, a bird bath is a good idea. This needn’t be a stone one on a stand. A large garden saucer is fine. It’s fun to watch the birds drink and taking a dip. Fresh water, regularly topped up also attracts other wildlife. Remember to break the ice in freezing weather.

***The RSPB online shop has a great selection of feeders and bird food***

How to attract birds to your winter garden. Part two: winter flowering shrubs for you and the birds.

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