Planning and creating a bird and wildlife friendly garden
Whether you want to create a new garden, or have an existing one, patio or balcony, try to imagine your garden is a nature reserve and you are the warden.
If you are creating a new garden, look at what grows locally in the wild and in other gardens for ideas. You cannot force plants to grow where they don’t want to, so look to see what flourishes where in your garden. If you find something growing naturally and wish to keep it, leave it where it is instead of trying to move it. Work with what you have and if any major pruning or removal is necessary, undertake it over several winters to give birds and wildlife time to adjust.
Provide as many habitats as possible – a lawn, trees and shrubs, flowers and water are key habitats. Look to create smaller microhabitats within these such as long grass providing habitat for egg laying and over wintering of caterpillars. Different species of trees, shrubs and flowering plants provide nectar and other food sources through the year.
A water feature with different depths is great for birds and wildlife – shallow areas are used by bathing and drinking birds, emerging dragonflies and somewhere for amphibians to lay eggs – deeper areas help aquatic insects survive cold spells.
Somewhere to breed and shelter
Birds and wildlife requires two fundamental things: somewhere safe to breed and shelter and somewhere to forage throughout the year.
Grow climbers against walls to provide shelter and roosting and breeding sites for birds. A thick, well-developed, thorny shrub bed or hedge provides nest sites and shelter for wildlife. Leave tidying of borders and shrubs until late winter or early spring to provide shelter for insects through winter.
Creating a range of habitat niches provides different areas and opportunities for birds and wildlife to feed at different times of year. Early and late flowering plants provide nectar for insects at critical times – just after emergence or prior to hibernation. Tidy borders and cut shrubs in late winter and early spring to help retain seeds and fruit for birds and small mammals throughout winter.
Plants that provide a late source of autumn nectar for insects and late winter fruit for birds are excellent. Fruiting bushes are a good source of food for birds and mammals during the autumn and part of the winter. Annual plants that produce many seeds in late summer are a good source of seed for birds through autumn into winter. Many baby birds need insects – a good source of protein – if they are to grow strong and healthy and survive the winter. A variety of garden plants encourages these insects.
Nest boxes provide nesting sites for cavity-nesting species, birds that excavate their own nesting sites such as dead branches, posts or trees or use existing cavities excavated by other birds or animals.
Primary cavity nesting species (such as woodpeckers) excavate their own sites, whereas secondary cavity nesters (such as chickadees and wrens) rely on existing cavities and lack the ability to excavate their own cavities and will therefore, readily accept man-made housing.
What makes a good Nest Box?
It is important that functional nest boxes meet specific criteria to meet the needs of the species you are trying to attract. Some of the things to take in to account are:
- Appropriate dimensions for the specific species – The size of the box, the entrance hole, the height of the hole above the floor and an internal ladder (for fledglings) all need to be specific to the species of bird.
- Positioning to ensure the box is not in direct sunlight and that it is easily accessible for cleaning
- Good Ventilation and adequate drainage
- An amount of roof overhang to provide shade and protection from driving rain
- An opening door or panel to allow for easy cleanout/removal of pests
- No perches to help stop predators
- Made out of safe, appropriate materials – no treated wood or cardboard
Nest boxes can be easily made or purchased from Backyard Bird Centre or Wild Birds Unlimited Stores.