Nesting birds are wonderful to observe, and it can be riveting to see a bird nesting close to your home. From those initial stages of finding a safe nesting spot and collecting nesting material, to the actual egg-laying stage. What a delight it is when the gift of eggs arrives, a sign of baby birds to come. And after some patient waiting, the egg pips. A small beak prying the shell. If you’re lucky you’ll spy the chicks as they feed and grow, eventually flying off on that momentous day.
Living in an era where urban creep and modern farming practices have placed many bird species under threat, it has become common and in some cases necessary to encourage birds to urban gardens – both for our own joy and to offer a space where birds can get the resources they need.
To get birds to nest in your garden, you need to create an environment where birds feel safe, where they have access to food, water and nesting materials.
Here are some basics to keep in mind to attract birds to nest in your garden:
Providing birds with natural sources of food is preferred over feeding birds. Feeding birds should ideally be done to supplement any natural food sources especially during periods of cold and before migration.
Planting indigenous natural vegetation in your garden will help create a small ecosystem and in turn a sustainable variety of food sources for birds to feed on throughout the year. Birds tend to nest close to readily available food sources so providing a habitat that provides reliable natural food sources is a great first step to encourage nesting birds to your garden.
A variety of indigenous vegetation will help attract several different bird species. But what vegetation really gets birds coming back for more? Endemic fruiting vegetation that provides fruit just when birds are looking for nutrient variety. Look for plant species that you may find in nearby greenspaces that are indigenous. Some grass species, thistles and certain trees offer seeds that encourage seed eaters.
Keeping your soil rich in nutrients and full of loam will encourage a host of worms and soil-dwelling creatures. Leaving leaves and other garden rubble un-raked under trees will keep the soil warm and moist and encourage a variety of leaf litter insects that birds can feed on.
Creating a consistent supply of food by feeding your garden birds will offer a better nesting site. But before you feed birds in your area, check out some local bird or conservation organisations in case there is reason to avoid feeding birds, such as a disease outbreak.
Bear in mind that different bird species eat different things and therefore will require different types of feeders. Selecting the right feeder for your garden and the area where you live may take a bit of trial and error. You should take note of the species that already visit your garden, or those you are particularly keen to attract, as different food and feeder types will be required to attract them to visit or nest.
At different times of the year, you’ll want to offer different types of food. Higher in calories in colder months and more varied nutrients over the warmer periods, especially while birds are building their nests. Here are some examples of different types of food to put out for the birds in your garden.
It is important that birds can access feeders quickly and without too much effort. The distance from food to a potential nesting site might make a difference to some species. You can move feeders to a variety of positions – offering birds options and favouring multiple species. Raise your feeders off the ground to reduce them becoming predator hotspots. In harsh weather conditions, birds will be more attracted to feeders that offer some protection from the wind and precipitation. It is best to place bird feeders in a position where they receive neither too much sun nor too much cold wind, and in a space that is fairly dry. These choices will encourage birds, reduce the risk of spreading disease and discourage feed from spoiling.
Crucially, you need to keep your feeders clean. The risk of spreading disease is high when using artificial feeders, especially if many birds are using them. Clean them using warm soapy water regularly. Move the bird feeders around the garden, rotating areas to avoid droppings from building up.
Proximity to a really good water source will be a large factor when considering your garden as a site for nesting. Water is important for birds to drink and clean themselves. Water needs to be clean, but it is also worth considering whether you include running water as this may prevent it from frosting over. Moving water is natural-looking, reduces bacteria and the breeding of mosquitoes and is likely to attract more birds than still water. Adding a small pump with aeration will help increase the quality of water.
Birds are attracted to spaces that they feel safe. Vegetation is their primary means of finding this safety. Do you feel like birds could take refuge in the nooks and crannies of your garden? Do you have enough vegetation that will keep that shy sparrow or anxious finch sheltered should predators arrive?
In dense vegetation birds can conceal themselves and their nests, giving them protection from the elements and any other threats. Depending on the species this may be in thicker vegetation such as shrubs, or for others, high off the ground in a tree.
The specific types of vegetation will vary depending on where you live. Are the plants in your garden indigenous? Birds will thrive in and often prefer indigenous vegetation.
Birds are unlikely to nest where they feel unsafe. Because of their ability to fly, many birds can move themselves to safety quickly and out of reach of many predators. However, birds still want to feed, drink and nest in a safe space far from the threat of predation. Some of the safe spaces birds nest include on the ground, in trees, in burrows and on the side of cliffs, or under sheltered spaces such as below overhanging rocks. Man-made structures also offer refuge in an urban environment.
Foxes, primates and birds of prey, depending on where in the world you are, all offer a threat to garden birds. While predation is a natural cycle, we should remember that dogs and cats offer a very real threat to birds, particularly nesting birds. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have birds in your garden if you have pets. Keep your bird feeders and nesting boxes in spaces that are more difficult for ground-dwelling animals to reach. Bear in mind walls and trees that may be easy for a cat to wait and pounce from. When possible, keep your dogs separate from the areas you wish to keep bird feeders or nesting boxes. Fitting cats with a bell, reflective collars or brightly coloured collars like these: (https://www.birdsbesafe.com/) is a great way to prevent birds from being caught. Some dogs may be trained to stay away from birds but the best way to keep them away is to make sure they’re not left outside near any feeders or water features unattended.
A garden with adequate naturally occurring nest construction material will be far more attractive to birds. Avoid raking up leaves and loose twigs, feathers, any loose moss or grass tufts to encourage birds to build close to you. Beware that birds will build with just about anything that they can get their beaks on. So, clean up any plastic, foil, tinsel or other materials that birds may pick up unknowingly.
Some of the spaces that birds might like to nest in your garden include trees, shrubs, and garden sheds, ruins or outbuildings that are not frequented by humans provide perfect spaces. Nest boxes and nesting platforms offer a good alternative for some bird species. After all, they give good shelter and concealment. Position your nest boxes and platforms carefully with similar considerations to feeders and water stations – offer proximity to all the things discussed above (food, water, shelter and dense indigenous vegetation) and think carefully of distance and safety from predators. Choosing a nest box will depend on the species you’re hoping to attract. Consider the size of the opening and space within the box. Owls need a larger nest box while tits for example, like small, cosy boxes. Place the nest boxes far from noise and stress where possible, and remember that some species can make their own (beautiful) kinds of noise so think about your tolerance for this when choosing how close to your bedroom window to place these kinds of boxes!
Encouraging birds to your garden can be a journey full of joy. We hope these tips have helped you get to grips with the best ways to encourage birds to your garden in the hopes they may nest. Let us know in the comments below how successful you are at getting birds to nest in your garden. What were the challenges you faced or delights you had?
Post some pics of your garden set up and tag the #gardenbirds you see today or share the story of birds nesting in your garden and tag #nestingbirds