Birds are a wonderful addition to your garden. They bring colour, variety and birdsong to your patch. They also offer a free pest control service, eating many different insects that damage young plants.
How Do You Stop Insects from Eating Your Fruit and Vegetables?
Seeing plants get eaten by creepy crawlies can be frustrating. It’s tempting to reach for whatever will stamp them out. The problem is that many insecticides can kill off useful wildlife too – creatures that could help you to keep insect pests under control.
Birds Eat Insects in Your Garden
The great news is that birds eat all sorts of insects. Blue tits and great tits love to eat aphids, so they are welcome visitors if you are planning to grow cabbages, broccoli, cauliflowers, kale and other brassicas (which aphids love). Chaffinches, greenfinches, robins and house sparrows all like to catch aphids too. They feed them to their young chicks. The more birds you attract, the fewer aphids you’ll have.
Garden Birds Eat Slugs, Snails and Caterpillars
There are lots of critters that like eating garden plants. The neat thing is that birds like to eat these critters! Cutworms (which are moth caterpillars, not worms at all) look very tasty to birds. These caterpillars destroy young plants, ‘cutting’ down seedlings at the stem – so if you can encourage birds into the garden to eat them, you should see less damage to your plants early in the growing season. Blackbirds, thrushes, robins and starlings all love eating slugs and snails.
Don’t Forget Caterpillars Are Useful Too
Ok, caterpillars may be irritating when they nibble your plants – but once they transform into moths and butterflies, they become pollinators. These are helpful insects to have in the garden. Bees and flies are also useful and, in some cases, essential pollinators. Many crops such as squashes, courgettes and pumpkins need to be pollinated by insects to produce fruit.
“Spring would not be spring without bird songs.” Francis M. Chapman
So, How Do You Get Garden Birds onto Your Patch? Here Are Four Top Tips:
- Put up a Nest Box in Your Garden
You can buy nest boxes for different birds – a blue tit nest box has a slightly smaller hole than a great tit or house sparrow nest box, for example. Look at the RSPB website for advice on choosing the right size box, the best place to put it and how to make your own boxes.
- Feed Your Garden Birds
Hang up a bird feeder. Keep it topped up and cleaned out, and it will encourage birds to visit your garden. This is more important in the winter when their natural food is harder to find. Sunflower seeds are a really good choice. You can also make fat balls to hang up – there are lots of easy recipes online.
- Offer Drinking and Washing Facilities
Yes, your garden birds love a good dip! Access to clean water is important if you want them to keep coming back. A birdbath should be quite shallow, between 2.5cm-10cm deep and with sloping edges so that birds can easily get in and out. An upturned dustbin lid buried in the ground with a layer of gravel over the bottom for the birds to grip onto makes a good birdbath. Birds are pretty happy with any shallow dish of water – I’ve found that a terracotta dish designed to sit underneath flower pots is an excellent watering hole for the blackbirds and house sparrows in my garden. They come to drink and have a bath, which is lovely to watch.
- Keep Your Garden Birds Healthy
Cleaning out your bird feeder and birdbath often is very important to stop the spread of diseases. Greenfinches have been dying from a nasty condition called trichomonosis, which is linked to dirty bird feeders.
Do Garden Birds Live Here All Year Round?
Some birds such as willow warblers and chiffchaffs are summer visitors to the UK. They fly in from the Mediterranean and Africa to spend the summer here, before flying back to avoid our winter. Other garden birds live in the UK all year round: blackbirds, great tits, blue tits, robins, house sparrows, chaffinches.
When Do Garden Birds Nest?
Birds start to nest from March onwards. The average life span of a garden bird is one to two years old, with larger species such as blackbirds living longer than smaller ones. It might not be the same old friendly robin you see every year in your garden, sadly!
Won’t Birds Damage Plants as Well?
If you are worried about crops getting eaten by your feathered friends, think about using bird netting. In my experience, it is generally only the wood pigeons that cause a little bit of trouble in the fruit and veg garden. They enjoy snacking on cabbages and peas as well as a variety of shoots, buds and berries if given a chance. If you use netting, be careful that plants don’t get caught up in it as they grow.
To stop wood pigeons from eating new plants in raised beds, try using canes about 12 inches long pushed in right next to each plant. This works to keep them off – it means they can’t easily land or waddle about as they would on the ground. Tall-sided grows bags with no space for pigeons to land in are great too.
Restore the Balance of Nature in Your Garden
In the end, it’s important to remember that yes, your garden birds may take a few of your crops if you are growing fruit and vegetables – but they are also chomping on insects that would otherwise be ransacking your plants. It’s all about getting the balance right.
Once you start to get more birds coming into the garden, see how many different species you can spot. Put your bird feeders and nest boxes where you can easily see them from your windows – this way, you’ll be able to spot your garden visitors without disturbing them. It’s good fun!