How to create a wildlife haven
Feeders, nestboxes and a variety of other accessories can all be extremely valuable for attracting birds into your garden, and encouraging them to stay.
But you also need to ensure that your garden has the right mixture of trees, plants and shrubs that ensure birds have good cover for nesting and as a refuge from predators as well as food in the form of berries, fruits and seeds, and further food in the form of insects.
This classic British hedgerow species has shiny red berries or haws, that are often still around for birds to eat as late as March, so it’s a valuable resource for Blackbirds, Redwings, Fieldfares, Starlings, Chaffinches and Greenfinches. In spring, the leaves are eaten by many caterpillars, which in turn provide food for baby birds
Its flowers attract insects which are eaten by Wrens and Robins in autumn, its black berries, which appear in winter, are eaten by finches, thrushes, Starlings and Waxwings, and its dense foliage provides shelter for small birds to nest and shelter in, as well as being eaten by the caterpillars of the Holly Blue Butterfly.
A great option if space is tight, because like Ivy it’s a climber that can be trained up any wall or fence. Its berries are eaten by warblers such as Blackcap, plus Bullfinches and thrushes. Better still, it looks great, and its flowers attract insects which are food for a wide range of birds.
Teasels are renowned as great favourites of Goldfinches, and their popularity in gardens is one reason for the species’ expansion in numbers and range in recent decades. The seedheads form in early autumn and can last until the end of the year, and will also attract other species.
Different varieties produce berries at different times, from late July right through to November, but all are great favourites with thrushes of all kinds, and Waxwings. It can grow into a big enough tree to bear the nests of a number of species, too, but you’ll need a fair bit of space as it can spread quite considerably
The berries are eaten by Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Mistle Thrushes, Fieldfares and Redwings, among others, although they may wait until late winter before doing so (the berries ripen by autumn). They also provide good cover. You need a female plant to produce berries, but you also need a male nearby to ensure pollination
Another shrub beloved of Waxwings – its popularity in car parks has made them the prime spots for finding the eastern ‘invaders’. It produces small red berries from autumn onwards, which are also popular with Blackbirds, and Song and Mistle Thrushes, and all species tend to home in on them early, so they’re often stripped of all fruit by the start of winter.
A native shrub which bear clusters of glossy berries from late October right through the winter, making it an invaluable food resource for many birds, including Mistle Thrushes. It can be used as a hedging plant, where it provides plenty of cover, and you'll find that the white flowers are particularly attractive to hoverflies.
You only have to watch how popular sunflower seeds are in your feeders to know that this is a must for any wildlife garden. You need a sunny area, and it’s useful to have something to tie the stalks to (or to stake them), if they really start to grow. At the end of summer, the flowers fade to leave large seedheads that provide oil-rich nourishment for Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatches, finches and other seed-eaters.
The rose hips produced by different varieties are eaten by a number of species, with the smaller hips of the Dog Rose being particularly popular, as they stay ripe right through the winter. The Hedging Rose gives larger hips, generally taken by Blackbirds, Fieldfares and Mistle Thrushes.
Wild Flower Garden
Any wildlife garden also benefits from leaving some areas to grow a little wild. Even weeds can play their part, as many have seeds that are eagerly eaten by birds. But the best way to do it is by creating a wild flower patch. You can use nutrient-poor soils, as they are less likely to get grasses taking over and smothering everything else.
All you need is an open, sunny patch of garden, where the grass has been cleared or is sparse, then in spring, sow wildflower seeds (many manufacturers produce their own mix), at roughly 1.5g per square metre, covering them with a fairly light scattering of soil. To prevent grass spreading into the patch, plant Yellow Rattle around the edges, as this is a grass-parasite that will kill off any unwanted growth. Sit back, and by midsummer you should have a blaze of colour that attracts insects, including bumblebees, which need all the help they can get.
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If you’re also getting non-avian visitors, a ‘trail’ camera or ‘camera trap’ is a great idea. These can be secured to trees, fence posts or the like, and are set up to automatically photograph or video whatever moves in front of them. Most also have night modes, so you can use them to get an idea of what’s in your garden at all hours. Nature Camera range provide some great options.