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Looking Out For The Birds

It would be impossible for most of us to ignore the declining numbers of pollinators in our garden. It's certainly a big topic under great discussion... but did you know our bird populations are also on the decline with some species down in numbers by 50% compared to just 25 years ago? That's a huge drop in not a lot of time.


Although birds are present around our gardens year round, different seasons see different species. For example, birds such as House Martins are migratory birds that arrive on British shores in Spring to breed. They spend Summer in Britain, benefitting from long daylight hours, rearing their young, before heading South in Autumn.


The wren is a tiny, dumpy, almost rounded, brown bird with a fine bill and a short, narrow tail which is sometimes cocked up vertically. For such a small bird it has a remarkably loud voice. It is the most common UK breeding bird, although it suffers declines during prolonged, severely cold winters. A diet of insects.



I wrote this post back in July (oh how time 'flies'!) but I wanted to wait until Autumn to post it. This is because right now is a very exciting time for avian activity. As birds leave the wilds in search of extra nutrition when the weather begins to drop - this will lead to them venturing closer to our homes.


So we need to be doing everything we can to encourage our feathered friends because in return we get to enjoy their chirps, song and swooping activity!


The great part is that it's not difficult to make your garden attractive to birds. In fact, you're probably already doing a lot without realising it! For a quick rundown, hedging and bushy shrubs offer warmth and shelter, fruiting and flowering plants provide feed and leaving grasses to grow longer gifts cover from predators.


Getting stuck in, season by season, here is a list of plants to assist our birds on a year-round basis whilst also adding interest to your garden space. A win-win! Stay with me because at the end of this article I have mentioned two Herefordshire-based businesses who specialise in bird-based products that you absolutely must check out!


Spring


Arguably the most exciting season of the year. Following months of grey skies and damp weather, our gardens and the wider landscape awaken from winter slumber to provide us with some hope. In Spring you'll be feeding Tits, Finches, Thrushes and Sparrows. Ensure bird baths are cleaned and topped up with liquid. Start planting annuals for the purpose of attracting insects and to provide seeds for birds later in the year.


A colourful mix of blue, yellow, white and green makes the blue tit one of our most attractive and most recognisable garden visitors. A garden with four or five blue tits at a feeder may actually be feeding 20 or more! A diet of insects, seeds and nuts.


Cherry Blossom - one of the first signs of Spring is a Cherry Blossom draped with colour. Some 'ornamental' varieties still produce fruits that the can birds enjoy. Prunus avium 'Regina' produces both Spring flowers and fruit come Summer and Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai' is idealfor pots!



'Snowy Mespilus' - Amelanchier is a relatively small multi-stem tree that our good friend Leigh wrote about in great detail in a previous article. Good for birds to perch and beautiful Spring blossoms turn into Summer fruits for food. In Autumn you'll be blessed with copper foliage and come Winter the branches look very architectural.



Cow Parsley - a plant in rural Herefordshire that forms part of the landscape, this is perfect for the wild garden (it's a true self-seeder, so be warned!). It's cloud-like clusters of flowers attract many insects and Sparrows love the seeds once they begin to drop.




Summer


By the time Summer arrives our gardens should be planted with new additions from Spring and Autumn reasonably established. Migrating birds, Swallows, Swifts and House Martins, will begin to descend upon us by now. Song Birds will be taking refuge as they moult for the colder weather. Flowers will be in full-swing with their blooms attracting insects - which in return is all potential food. If you didn't get round to planting annuals in Spring, there's still time for an early Autumn display. Keep those bird baths full and clean. The latter part being just as important.


The House Martin is a small bird with glossy blue-black upper parts and pure white under parts. It has a distinctive white rump with a forked tail and, on close inspection, white feathers covering its legs and toes. Although still numerous and widespread, recent moderate declines earn them a place on the Red List. A diet of insects.


Fruit Trees - divine blossom followed by edible fruits, Bullfinches will enjoy the flowers, the blossom will attract insects - food for Tits and once baring fruit, Thrushes will enjoy those. There are all manner of fruit trees on the market, so you can select a variety that you a) enjoy and b) grows to suit your space. Check out Worcestershire's Frank P Matthews.



Lavender - it's a common fact that Lavender is loved by the bees, but did you know Goldfinches will feed on the seeds and House Martins, Swifts and Swallows will enjoy feasting on the insects. Stems and foliage are also great nesting materials. There are a number of varieties and Leigh has previously written an article on how to care for your Lavender.



Sunflowers - these big, friendly giants are perfect for providing a rich energy source for a wide range of birds. They are easy to grow annuals - just make sure you choose single-headed forms as opposed to mulit-headed forms.




Autumn


Many beginners think once Summer is over then that's it for the garden. However, just because the Pimm's-appropriate weather is past us it doesn't mean the garden stops! By this point heavy gardening work won't be disturbing nests, so take the opportunity to also clear out bird boxes and to establish new ones. As the weather gets colder, birds such as Fieldfares, Redwings and Waxwing will be searching harder for food - so don't hesitate to put more out or to leave fallen fruit on the ground.


Fieldfares are large, colourful thrush-like birds. They stand very upright and move forward with purposeful hops. They are very social birds, spending the winter in flocks of anything from a dozen or two to several hundred strong. A diet of insects, worms and berries.


Rowan Tree - a well-shaped ornamental tree with attractive foliage and many clusters of bright berries loved by blackbirds, thrushes, redwings and waxwings. There are species native to the UK (this is the ideal option) and the berries come in a wide range of colours from reds & oranges to yellows & pinks.





Ice Plant - Sedum spectable is a late-flowering option however there are a number of varieties available in a whole host of bold colours. Their large flowers are perfect for late-coming pollinators, finches will love the seeds from the heads if left to go through and the stems offer a meal for birds like wrens and blue tits who like to forage for insects.



Michaelmas Daisy - similar to Ice Plants, these daisies offer late colour and are available in a whole array of colours and sizes - so you can find the perfect variety to suit you and your planting needs whilst still offering food for birds.





Winter


Winter, although somewhat dull for many, is an exciting time for our birds. As pickings in the wild become slim, birds such as jays, nuthatches and treecreepers followed by long-tailed tis, greenfinches and chaffinches will really be venturing closer to our homes in search of food. Feeders become a great help at this time of the year. The more you top them up, the more birds will return. Cut back perennials at the last minute (if you can help it) as they offer cover for insects.


The nuthatch is a plump bird about the size of a great tit that resembles a small woodpecker. It is blue-grey above and whitish below, with chestnut on its sides and under its tail. It has a black stripe on its head, a long black pointed bill and short legs. Birds seldom travelling far from the woods where they hatch. A diet of insects, hazel nuts, acorns and other nuts &