Feeding Wildlife in the Garden
Bird tables: can provide a wonderful focal point for bird activity in your garden, and can hugely increase the total number of birds, and the number of species, that visit. But be careful that your kindness is combined with care: bird tables if badly situated or dirty can put birds at risk.
And remember a bird table can be as successful on a window box or window sill, so dont imagine they are only for big gardens!
The right place for your bird table
What is the ideal bird table?
Many garden centres, pet shops, and of course RSPB reserve shops sell bird tables. Usually they are wooden, and look quite rustic, but if a more unusual design would suit your garden, then you are free to experiment. The basic considerations are:
Feeding Garden Birds
About two thirds of all households feed their garden birds at some stage each year.
When to feed: It is now accepted practice to feed birds throughout the year not just during the winter. Indeed, birds may be most in need of food in spring, just at the point where we are most likely to stop because we think it is getting warmer. By April and May, nights are often still freezing, but birds must begin to defend territories, spend much time singing or laying and incubating eggs, at the very time when there are no seeds and few insects available naturally. It is in late summer when your feeders will probably be most inactive.
There are some simple golden rules to ensure that your kindness is doing good rather than harm.
What are the best foods?
Different birds eat different foods, which is why putting out a variety of foodstuffs will attract a wider range of species. Typical foods include:
Deterring unwelcome visitors
There are several visitors which are often unwelcome at feeders. All come because there is food on offer some to eat the food you put out, some to try to catch the birds you want to attract.
Bird nestboxes: Typical nestboxes the ones with the small round hole - provide substitutes for the natural holes in old trees which are often absent from gardens. But there are many other types of boxes that can be used, each with a particular design to encourage a particular species. And its not only birds - bats, dormice, hedgehogs and even insects can be attracted to boxes too.
Most birds will require a nestbox that is higher than 2 metres up to make them feel safe from predators, but shouldnt be much higher than 5 metres much will depend on where you can reach, for the box will need to be accessible in order for it to be cleaned out.
There are some birds, however, such as wrens and robins, that nest low down but well hidden in vegetation.
Where boxes are open to the elements, they should not face south or west which will put the young birds at risk of overheating in sunshine and will also face the prevailing winds. Anywhere between north and east is ideal. Lean the box slightly forward too, to lower the risk of rain dribbling or driving in.
Fixing nestboxes to trees.
If possible, avoid using nails, and affix instead with a loop of wire cushioned against the trunk with, eg, a hose pipe.
Clearing out nestboxes
It is best to clear out your nestbox each year, and the best time to do it is autumn. Sometimes you will find unhatched eggs or even the remains of youngsters. This is quite normal birds try to produce as many young as possible, knowing that there will always be some losses due to weather or food shortages. Unhatched eggs can legally only be removed between October and January, and must be thrown away. Disinfect only with boiling water.
Boxes for other creatures
There are now nestboxes that can be bought or made - for hedgehogs, bats, lacewings and bees. The key is understanding the needs of animals and then being creative!
'Information supplied by RSPB, August 2002'