I am a twitcher. There, I've said it. I love the birds in my garden like they were my own children (maybe a little less...) and spend the same amount of time gazing out of the window at their antics as most 'normal' people spend watching telly!
I'm lucky enough to live next to a large municipal cemetery and local nature reserve. As such, we are visited by the most amazing array of birds on a regular basis, species that most might only see once in a lifetime. We've had goldcrests, bullfinches, a nuthatch, long tailed tits, a blackcap, a spotted woodpecker, goldfinches, even a regular tawny owl. Twenty eight different types at the last count (and yes, we do keep a list!) But they are encouraged by a few simple measures that, if I'm gardening elsewhere, I encourage other people to consider too.
Most of the birds arrive at various feeding stations from a safe space - in our case, under the cover of a large hedge. If there is ever an choice to be made in demarcating a garden boundary, hedges beat fences every time. They may take a little more maintenance, but they repay this commitment in spades. Hedges provide nesting habitat, often food (particularly if they're hawthorn or similar) but mainly protection from predators. A quick hop from hedge to bird table is easy and usually stress free for the little feathered ones.
I am a messy gardener, or rather I make a point of not being too neat. Piles of branches and leaf litter, missed apples on the lawn, nooks and crannies for invertebrates and seed heads are all ideal sources of food. Don't be too hasty to clear away, especially over the winter period when resources are scarce. Seeing a goldfinch gorge on a dandelion clock was all the incentive I needed to skip a lawn mowing! Likewise, encourage nesting by leaving materials that might be useful. A coir mat at the back doorstep was demolished in spring at ours, but closer inspection of a nest in the garden revealed that the occupants had used hair, plastic bags, wool fibres and even a piece of metallic ribbon! Try to keep it natural: there are even instructions for building nesting 'wreaths' around, something I'd like to try.
My main bird magnet was a bird table, one of those freestanding ones (we have a lot of cats frequenting the garden, much to my annoyance). Despite being looked after, its poor construction quality had left it broken and rotten in places. I missed watching the birds so much that I desperately wanted to replace it, but bird tables are, for some reason, ridiculously priced! So I've made an effort, over a couple of days to repair it, in the true 'make do and mend' spirit!
The table itself was stapled together, so I used stronger screws to reassemble it, and recovered what was left of the roof with some offcuts of felt and some reused clout nails. I had to use L brackets at the apex of the roof under the felt to hold the panels together! The whole thing has been repainted - four coats of old white outdoor wood paint and a matchpot of green - which as well as sealing it, gives a clean surface for the bird food (bird tables should be cleaned regularly to prevent the spread of disease). I added decorative edging strips to cover the edge of the roofing felt and a couple of wooden hearts from some old bunting to finish it off. It is Valentine's Day after all! The rotten base has been replaced by a single spiked Metpost, which also means that it can be placed closer to the hedge cover so safer for the birdies. Total cost around £10 rather than a replacement of £60 (and all the carbon footprint that buying new entails!) I'm not a DIY expert by any stretch, but when there's nothing to lost by trying, It's a good opportunity to improve your skills. What's to disappoint?
Tomorrow is the big installation and I can't wait to see it in action. I don't think we'll see any more variety of species (surely we must have reached the limit?!) but I always live in hope.
Once a twitcher, always a twitcher eh? I shall have my notebook and glasses at the ready just in case!
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.