How to Choose an Insect House
Insects are an essential part of the food chain. Some garden-friendly insects can also lend a hand to gardeners. Bees and butterflies help to pollinate our plants. Ladybirds and lacewings eat aphids. They’re an important part of any garden eco-system.
Well-kept gardens don’t always provide the damp, dark hiding places that bugs love to live in. But, even if you don’t want to place a pile of rotting wood or leaf litter in a corner of your garden, you can still provide a welcoming habitat for insects.
Many creepy crawlies will set up home in an insect house. These small and attractive garden additions allow you to look after your garden bugs without compromising on aesthetics. If you’d like to install an insect house in your garden, here are a few tips on what you should be looking for:
A Variety of Hidey Holes
Different insects look for different things in a home. Ladybirds like to hibernate in amongst dead wood. Lacewings look for a place with separated chambers. Solitary bees like hollow tubes that imitate the plant stems in which they usually lay their eggs. Your insect house should provide a variety of different sized holes, nooks and crannies if you’re to attract a wide selection of insects.
When choosing an insect house, you need to look for a sturdy structure that can stand up to the British weather. A roof needs to protect internal nooks and crannies from the rain – insect houses can be damp but not wet. You should also be able to secure your insect house to a wall or fence – you don’t want it to blow away in the wind.
Made from A Variety of Natural Materials
You’re much more likely to attract residents to your insect house if it’s made from natural materials. Bugs tend to look for homes that resemble their natural habitats. Wood and muted colours are a must. You can also look for insect houses that incorporate a number of different natural materials – pine cones, wood bark and straw are all appealing to different insect species.
Once you’ve chosen your insect house, be sure to place it in a cool, shady place that offers plenty of cover from predators. Fix the box firmly to a tree trunk, wall or post and wait for your garden creepy crawlies to take up residence. If it’s in the right place, your insect house should be full of life within a week or two.
What do Butterflies like to Eat?
Butterflies are welcome visitors in any garden. They help to pollinate plants and look beautiful to boot. If you’re keen to create your own butterfly garden, you need to know just what these colourful insects like to eat.
Butterflies eat (or drink) through their proboscis – a tube that works a bit like a straw. But they actually taste using their feet! Here are a few of their favourite foods:
The butterfly’s primary source of food is nectar. It gets nectar from plants and flowers. Butterflies prefer to visit flowers that are placed in a sunny but sheltered spot. If you’re planting your garden with butterflies in mind, try to include plants that flower throughout the season. That way you can provide a reliable supply of food from spring to early autumn.
A few nectar-rich plants you could consider for your garden include:
Verbena – This is a tall plant with lots of purple flowers on wiry stems.
Hebe – This is a reliable shrub all year round, with flowers that attract butterflies in the summer.
Perennial Wallflower – This plant produces pretty purple flowers from spring until autumn.
Buddleia – Known as the “butterfly bush”, buddleia comes in a number of colours and flowers in July and August.
Marjoram – This is a perennial herb that can grow to 80cm tall. White, pink or purple flowers grow from June to September.
Butterflies love a sweet treat. And in the autumn months, a sugary boost can help to keep them fit and healthy. If you want to provide your butterflies with an autumnal feast, leave out an overripe banana. Alternatively, if you have fruit trees in your garden, leave fallen fruit on the ground. Butterflies seem to have a particular taste for pears, plums and apples.
Butterflies are often sleepy when they first wake from their cocoons or from hibernation in the spring. If you come across a butterfly struggling to get going, you can prepare a boiled then cooled mix of sugar and water. Use a brightly coloured sponge to soak up the solution. A butterfly will take sips from it and get the boost it needs to take flight.
The glucose in nectar and fruit give butterflies their energy. But butterflies also require other nutrients. That’s why you may sometimes see them crowded around a muddy puddle. By sipping from the puddle they take in minerals and salts from the soil, which are thought to be important for reproduction.
By including a few of these food sources in your garden, you can attract butterflies for the whole of the season, making your garden into a festival of colour and life.
- Nikki Boxwild
Best Father’s Day Gifts for a Birdwatching Dad
In 2018 Father’s Day falls on Sunday 17th June. So now’s the time to start gift-hunting. If your dad is a keen birdwatcher, there are some great presents out there. Show him how much you care with these Father’s Day gifts, all perfect for bird-obsessed dads.
Any birdwatcher worth their salt will own a pair of binoculars. But find out whether your dad’s pair offer the best magnification and lens size. You could treat him to a state-of-the-art pair of birding binoculars to take his hobby to the next level.
Bird Feeding Gift Box
Let your dad enjoy his twitching hobby from the comfort of his own home. With a bird feeder gift box he can attract a wide variety of birds to his garden. You could even set up a bird seed subscription so he receives seasonal seed blends throughout the year – it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Bird Watching Day Out
Why not book a trip for two to a local wildlife reserve? Your dad will be able to spot a wide variety of bird species and enjoy some quality time with you to boot.
Bird of Prey Experience
Perhaps your dad would like to get up close to some of the biggest birds in the UK. Take him on a bird of prey experience (there are tons of options around the country). Depending on where you choose, he could have the option to fly eagles, falcons or owls and learn all about these top avian predators.
If your dad likes to photograph the birds that he comes across, he might appreciate some new camera equipment. A new tripod, a new lens or just a fancy new camera case could be just the ticket.
Birdwatching Books or Apps
There are plenty of great books out there for birdwatchers. Many offer a comprehensive guide to identifying birds in the UK. And if your dad is a little more tech-savvy, you could treat him to a birdwatching app for his smartphone instead. These interactive guides offer recordings of bird song, bird identifying tools and the option to record bird sightings too.
Whether your dad is a budding birdwatcher or a dedicated twitcher, he’s sure to love one of these fantastic Father’s Day gifts.
9 Interesting Facts about Bees
As the weather warms up, bees make a welcome return to our gardens. These buzzing insects are incredibly important to the planet’s ecosystems. They pollinate flowers and food for humans and other animals, meaning they occupy a crucial role within the food chain.
Here are 9 more interesting facts about bees:
#1 There are several hundred different varieties of bee in the UK. They may be social (living in hives) or solitary (nesting alone). Some sting and some don’t. And they occupy a wide variety of different habitats.
#2 Bees are responsible for pollinating a huge proportion of the food we eat. Fruit, chocolate, coffee – all of these items rely on bees. In fact, according to Friends of the Earth, it would cost British farmers £1.8billion a year to pollinate their crops without them.
#3 Bumblebees emerge from hibernation in the springtime. But they may be sluggish after their long sleep. If you find a sleepy bee, vets advise leaving some sugary water in a spoon so bees can take a sip and get the energy boost they need to take flight.
#4 The average worker honeybee produces just 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
#5 Bees rack up some pretty impressive stats. They flap their wings about 200 times every second. They visit up to 2,000 flowers in a single day. And honeybees fly approximately 500 miles during a lifetime.
#6 Since 1900, the UK has lost 13 different bee species. There are currently 35 species at threat of extinction. It’s thought that loss of habitat, disease, pesticides and pollution could all be to blame.
#7 Planting nectar-rich flowers in your garden provides food for your local bee population. Ideally you should pick a variety of plants and try to maximise your garden’s flowering season.
#8 A bee hotel can provide the perfect nesting spot for solitary bees. It should be placed in full sun and at least a metre off the ground.
#9 The EU recently announced that by the end of 2018 it will have banned bee-harming insecticides. These widely-used pesticides protect crops but are also thought to have a negative effect on bees. It’s hoped that the ban will help reverse the decline in bee populations seen over recent years.
Bees are amazing creatures. But they’re currently facing some tough challenges. If you’d like to help, try creating a bee-friendly garden at home.
- Nikki Boxwild
9 Interesting Facts about Blue Tits
Chances are you’ll see more than a few blue tits in your garden this year. They’re one of the most common birds in the UK. If you’d like to know more about these beautiful garden visitors, take a look at our 9 blue tit facts:
#1 Blue tits are one of our most instantly recognisable garden birds. Their blue, yellow, white and green plumage make them a very attractive garden visitor. Females and juveniles are usually a little less vibrant in colour than males.
#2 Blue tits are on average 12cm in length. They have an 18cm wingspan. And they tend to weigh just 11g – that’s around the same as a £2 coin or an AAA battery.
#3 Blue tits are common throughout the whole of the UK, with just a few exceptions. You won’t find blue tits on the Scottish islands of Orkney or Shetland.
#4 Blue tits eat insects, seeds and nuts. They particularly love peanuts and can often be found flocking around garden peanut feeders. When it comes to feeding their young, however, they seek out moth caterpillars and are prepared to travel a fair distance to find them.
#5 During mating season, a male blue tit will fluff out his feathers and rotate backwards and forwards, his head tilted back slightly. He may also bring foodie treats such as caterpillars to try and tempt a female.
#6 British blue tits stay in the UK all year round. In fact, they rarely move far from where they first hatched. Sometimes their numbers are increased by migratory blue tits from northern Europe.
#7 Blue tits are social birds. They can be spotted in flocks of up to 20 strong and are often seen feeding alongside other bird species, including goldcrests and great tits.
#8 Female blue tits usually lay around 7 to 13 eggs in a clutch. However, clutches as large as 19 eggs have been recorded. The first clutches of the season are laid in late April.
#9 The blue tit will happily set up home in a nest box. They choose boxes with smaller holes (around 25mm in diameter) so larger, more dominant bird species don’t try to muscle in. They can also be seen inspecting nest boxes early in the year and using them as a winter roost.
Encouraging blue tits to visit your garden is easy. Just provide plenty of peanuts and an inviting nest box and you’re sure to see more of them over the year to come.
- Nikki Boxwild
Springtime Nesting: How do Birds Build a Nest?
Around March and April you may see your garden birds carrying items back and forth as they work to build a nest. Usually the process only takes a few days. But the finished structure is always something of a marvel. These homes are strong enough to hold eggs, hatchlings and their parents. But they’re built using just a beak. So just how do birds build such impressive nests?
Who’s Job Is It?
On the whole, its female birds who build a nest although they may sometimes get some help from their mate. In contrast, it’s the male wren who builds a nest. He gathers moss, dry grass and dead leaves to make a number of dome-shaped homes. Then he hands over responsibility to the hen, who will select the nest she likes best and work to line it with feathers.
Mud and Moss
Robins, song thrushes and blackbirds all nest in hedgerows where they can be safe from predators. They all use a similar nest building style too. They weave grasses and small twigs together to create a structure. This is then made more stable (and more camouflaged) with mud and moss.
A collection of twigs isn’t so steady. Some birds use sticky spiders’ webs to hold their nests together. Chaffinches nest in trees so spider webs help to anchor the nest to branches. Long tailed tits create an elaborate enclosed nest where moss is held together with cobwebs.
Other birds take life a little easier and make use of pre-existing structures. Tits and owls like to set up home in tree trunks, where a handy hole provides the perfect base. Starlings and house sparrows find spaces in rooves. With a structure like this to work with, it doesn’t take much to make things cosy. Adding a little grass or moss will do the trick.
Birds work hard to make their nests comfortable. And they’ll make use of almost anything they can lay their beaks on. Wool, clothing fibres, animal fur and human hair are all commonly found in birds’ nests. Blackbird nests are often found to include materials like string and even sweet wrappers.
We include wood shavings in our gift boxes as filling, simply pop this in a fatball feeder and watch the birds come and collect bits as they build their nests!
For many nesting birds, privacy is a priority. They want to be safe from predators. This means it’s not always possible to see nest building in action. But keep your eyes peeled this spring and you may see your garden birds collecting the materials they need to make their home sweet home.
- Nikki Boxwild