A space for the birds

Water is essential for all animals, including birds

Water is essential for all animals, including birds - Credit: Archant

Make room for birds in your garden this month and they will repay you with wonderful sights and sounds this spring, says Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust’s Sarah Buckingham

Hanging bird feeders attract many birds including these starlings

Hanging bird feeders attract many birds including these starlings - Credit: Archant

Many birds begin to build their nests in March. As long as the weather isn’t too harsh, now is the time you will start to see them flitting backwards and forwards as they gather materials for their new nurseries, and there are lots of ways you can encourage them to set up home in your garden.


Put up a nestbox

Many birds will be looking for a good spot to nest this month. If spring arrives late, as it did last year, birds will struggle to find spots with suitable cover from trees and shrubs that have yet to come into leaf. You can help increase the number of options available by putting up a nestbox in your garden. Nestboxes made from woodcrete (a mixture of sawdust and concrete) are a good choice, as they are cool in summer and warm in winter. There are different designs for different birds, so it’s worth doing a bit of research if you want to attract a particular species.


Food and water

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Once spring arrives there will be plenty of available food for birds to enjoy – but while winter still has a grip, it’s helpful to feed them. Safe foods include black sunflower seeds, fat balls, mild grated cheese, sultanas, raisins, currants, pinhead oatmeal, apples, pears and other soft fresh fruit. Soak dried fruit overnight before putting it out.

As well as high energy food, water is essential and bird baths can be a vital source. There are excellent freestanding ones, but if you don’t have much space there are bird baths that attach to windows, walls and sills. Changing the water regularly is important – it helps to prevent the spread of disease.

If you order bird food, feeders, bird baths and other products from Vine House Farm (vinehousefarm.co.uk), it will make a donation to the Wildlife Trust.


Hedges and shrubs

Avoid cutting back your shrubs and hedges while birds are building nests and throughout the nesting period, from March until August. Birds will repay you by making their homes in your garden, delighting you with birdsong and keeping check on pests on your vegetable patch including aphids, grubs and slugs.

Got a boundary hedge? This is usually the responsibility of both neighbours. You will both need to agree on major work including removal, coppicing or laying. Regardless of ownership, no-one can trim or cut a hedge if the action damages active birds’ nests (see below, nesting birds and the law).


Nests in roofs

Roofs provide nest sites for many birds, including house sparrows and starlings.

These are both now red-listed species, meaning they have suffered big declines. You should always delay roofing work if you know birds are nesting there until the nest is inactive. If you come across a nest unexpectedly while doing work, an emergency nestbox can easily be made from a plastic container with a lid, such as a large ice cream tub. Cut a circular entrance closer to the lid than the bottom of the container in one of the long sides. Make this 3.5cm in diameter if you have sparrows and 4.5cm for starlings. Scratch the surface of the container directly below the hole, so the birds can grip onto it. On the opposite side, make two small holes 3cm from the top and 8cm apart. Thread string through these holes for fixing and make two small drainage holes in the bottom. Put the nest into the box and put the lid on, leaving the circular hole as the only entrance.


Nesting birds and the law

It is an offence under Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built.