How to Keep Your Garden Birds Healthy
When your garden is a bird haven offering plenty of food and water, you’re doing your garden birds a big favour. They can supplement their diet during summer months and find the food they so desperately need throughout winter. However, any place that many birds congregate is a place where avian disease can spread.
Here are some ways you can limit the spread of illness and keep your garden birds healthy:
Manage the Food Supply
If your bird food is sitting on the bird table uneaten for days on end, that’s plenty of time for it to become rotten or mouldy. Put out less food at a time to make sure everything is eaten when it’s at its best.
Don’t Leave Food on the Ground
Some birds don’t like to eat from a bird table or hanging feeder. But food left directly on the ground can attract vermin like rats. Rats carry diseases that can affect both birds and humans. To avoid this health risk, use a ground tray for your bird food. That way you can take it away at the end of the day and keep it properly clean.
Clean Bird Feeding Equipment
Bird feeders, tables, baths and nest boxes can harbour parasites that cause disease. Bird droppings can also breed harmful bacteria. You should regularly clean and disinfect all of your bird care equipment. Leave everything to dry fully before putting it back in your garden. When it comes to a nest box, you have to be sure that no nesting birds are currently in residence before removing and cleaning it.
Move Feeders and Tables
Bird droppings can accumulate underneath hanging bird feeders and bird tables. Regularly move them around your garden so you don’t end up with a large, bacteria-breeding collection of faeces in the one place.
Look out for Sick Birds
If you find a dead bird or notice a sick bird in your garden, stop putting out bird food immediately. Clean and disinfect all feeders, tables, bird baths and (if the season allows) nest boxes. Once you stop seeing dead or sick birds, you can put the clean equipment back into your garden. This will help to prevent the spread of disease to your other garden birds.
Maintaining good hygiene of your garden and bird care equipment is essential. By following a few simple rules, you can ensure the health and happiness of your avian garden guests.
You might also be interested in our post on Tips to attract more birds to your feeder or one on Endangered Garden Birds and what you can do to help.
How to Identify Wild Birds
You don’t have to know the names of the birds that visit your garden. Seeing them there can be enjoyment enough. However, knowing the names of the species you see gives you the opportunity to learn a little more about them. It can also help you to provide the food and habitats your feathered friends like best.
Here are some handy tips for identifying wild birds in your garden:
Note Down Characteristics
Birds aren’t likely to stay put whilst you give them a thorough examination. You need to make a note of key characteristics before a bird disappears from view. Size, shape and colouring are all important features that can help you to distinguish one bird from another. The shape of the bill and legs are particularly useful. Birds of prey have hooked bills whilst seed-eaters tend to have short, stout bills. And webbed feet is another big giveaway.
Search Online or in A Book
Nowadays, searching for a bird online is the easiest way to make an accurate identification. There are databases that allow you to type in the features you have recorded and find a shortlist of potential matches. But doing things the old-fashioned way still holds its charm. A good bird guide is an essential piece of kit for any would-be bird spotter.
Watch Out for Red Herrings
There are plenty of bird features that could lead to a misidentification. Here are some things to watch out for:
- Young or female birds sometimes have different colouring to male birds of the same species.
- It’s very difficult to make an accurate assessment of a bird’s size when it’s in the air.
- In cold weather birds can fluff out their feathers for warmth making them look very different to the standard images you’ll find online or in books.
- Captive birds sometimes escape. If you spot an exotic bird it could be that this isn’t something you usually find in the wild.
Being able to identify birds successfully is a learning process. The more birds you see and correctly identify, the easier it will be to identify future unknowns. You could visit a bird sanctuary or nature reserve to get to know different bird varieties. This will help with identification back at home in the garden.
Identifying the birds you see in your garden is a great activity to share with children. But it can be a fun undertaking whatever your age. With a few items of basic kit you could soon be recognising your birds and adapting your garden to better meet their needs.
Top 5 Things Not to Feed Your Birds
Providing food is a great way to attract birds to your garden. It can also help them through food shortages and the bleaker winter months. But you should always feed your avian visitors responsibly. Here are the top five things not to feed your birds:
Peanuts are a favourite for many birds but salted peanuts are a big no-no. Most birds can’t process salt and may die if they ingest too much of it. Whole nuts in the spring also pose a hazard as parents may feed them to their young, causing a risk of choking.
All bread, but particularly white bread, fills a bird’s stomach but provides little nutrition. There are lots of other healthier alternatives to offer.
Vegetable, chicken or turkey fat
Fat can end up coating a bird’s feathers and making it difficult for them to fly. If you want to make homemade fat balls for your birds, you should avoid using polyunsaturated fat or butter.
Whilst some birds are partial to a little bit of cheese, milk isn’t a good idea. It can cause severe stomach upsets.
Fresh coconut is a tasty treat for the birds in your garden but avoid desiccated coconut at all costs. It can swell in the stomach and be fatal to birds unless properly soaked beforehand.
How to Look After Your Garden Wildlife in July
How to Look After Your Garden Wildlife in July
During the height of summer your garden is likely to be in full bloom – bursting with beautiful colour and scent. There’s also lots of wildlife about. Here are a few tips for looking after your garden wildlife in July:
Baby frogs are likely to be making an appearance around now. Plant foliage or leave long grass around your pond to provide them with shelter from predators.
Baby hedgehogs are also on the move in July. They like meat-based cat or dog food and water. Providing these things will give them the extra food they need to prepare for hibernation in the autumn.
Avoid trimming your hedges until you’re sure there are no birds nesting there. Blackbirds and thrushes can nest as late as August. Also, keep your bird bath topped up with water on warmer days to provide drinking water.
Wildflower weeds such as daisies and dandelions provide a good source of nectar for bees. Leave areas of your lawn for these plants to grow. Also consider planting bee friendly biennials that will flower next year.
Your plants and flowers are a lifeline for bees and butterflies. Be sure to give them plenty of water during dry spells to keep them fighting fit.
How to Put Up a Nest Box
There’s no better way to attract birds to your garden than providing them a cosy home to nest in. But birds can be a little picky about the residence they choose. Many a nest box sits empty year after year. Brush up on exactly how to put up a nest box to maximise your chances of garden birds making it their home:
When to Put Up a Nest Box
Autumn is the best time to install your nest box. Many birds will scout out potential nesting locations throughout autumn and winter before settling in the following spring. With a nest box up and ready, birds can also use the space as shelter during bad weather.
Where to Put a Nest Box
Where you choose to put your nest box will depend upon the kinds of birds you wish to attract. House sparrows and starlings like to nest under the eaves. Robins and wrens like a nest box placed under two metres high and well hidden by foliage. Woodpecker boxes should be placed three to five metres up a tree trunk.
Wherever you put your nest box, make sure there are no obstructions to the flight path. You should also protect your nest box from weather extremes. Face it to the north or east to avoid strong sunlight and slant it down slightly so that heavy rain is less likely to make its way inside.
How To Protect Your Box from Predators
Predators are a common problem. Don’t use nest boxes with a built in perch as these can provide a handy ledge for unwanted guests. A bird feeder is another temptation that can attract predators. Put your feeder at a distance from the nesting box. This way, you can also help to prevent noisy eaters from disturbing nesting birds.
Maintaining a Nest Box
Cleaning your nest box is an annual job. Nests are the perfect habitat for fleas and other parasites, which can infest newly hatched birds next year. In the autumn, when you’re sure that the box is empty, take it down and wash it with boiling water. Only hang it back up once it’s completely dry. You may want to put a few wood shavings or a little hay into the box. This will help to entice hibernating mammals and roosting birds throughout the colder months.
An inhabited nest box will provide you with endless birdwatching opportunities. Put it up at the right time, put in the right place and see to its maintenance each year to create the perfect home for nesters.
Tips for attracting more birds to your feeders
We have put together a few tips on how you can get a large amount of birds to come into your garden and feed just by placing the bird feeders in the right place in your garden.
Placement of your bird feeder
Placement is key, you want to be able to see the birds while they are feeding, but it's also important that they feel safe while they have their meal. Birds are creatures of habit, so if they don’t feel safe, you’re likely to never see them again after their first visit. If you have a small garden, it is best to put the feeders fairly close to your windows. This allows you to observe the birds without scaring them away. If you have a larger garden with trees or shrubs this can be a good spot to hang a feeder as the foliage gives the birds cover from wind and predators. However, don’t put the feeders too close as they are also home to squirrels that would love to munch on your bird seed and also cats can hide in the branches, waiting to pounce. We suggest 2-5 metres away from the dense leafy areas. Experiment with a few feeders dotted around the garden to find the perfect place as each garden has its own habit so results may vary.
If you have a relatively open garden without much cover for the birds, you could try creating natural shelters yourself. All you’ll need are a few loosely stacked piles of sticks and branches around your bird feeder, and you can create a great resting place for a variety of birds.
Try to be patient
It will take a while for birds to start feeding in your garden. You may see a few flying around your garden and not landing for the first few weeks; this is them checking that the new feeder is safe. You may think that you have cracked it when you see the first birds land and enjoy a meal too. However, as we said above, birds are creatures of habit, if something doesn’t feel right about the place, they will likely not come back. If you have noticed the birds feeding once and then not returning, you might want to consider moving the feeders around and finding a spot with more cover; there maybe be predators that you can’t see lurking in the undergrowth.
Birds can be quite fussy as well, so if the bird seed is too wet or keeps getting blown away by the wind, the area may feel too exposed for them. Trying moving the feeders to a slightly more covered location, even a few feet closer to the fence could be just enough to make them happy.
Once you have attracted a few birds to your feeders more are likely to come. Just be patient and try to position your feeders in key places around your garden. It’s better to have more than one feeder as you’ll be able to see which ones are more popular and then set up others in the same manner for a bird feeding extravaganza!