Bird-friendly garden: how to attract birds to your garden


I am particularly interested in garden wildlife which is why I did my Master's degree with a focus on "animal ecology". I am convinced that beneficial insects and wildlife are a sustainable and effective alternative to many of the products we use on our plants. I am also a passionate birdwatcher and rarely go for a walk without my binoculars.

Favourite fruit: kiwi, apple and redcurrant
Favourite vegetables: tomatoes and green beans

There are many ways of attracting birds to your garden or balcony. Find out how to create a bird-friendly garden that offers our feathered friends the space they need to survive and thrive.

Bird on a watering can
By implementing a few tricks, you can turn your garden into a true bird paradise [Photo: Christian Gernert/]

As our landscape becomes ever more monotonous and intensely farmed, birds are becoming increasingly dependent on garden habitats. Wild birds are finding less and less food and their habitats are becoming scarce. As a result, they are being forced to take refuge in urban environments. Unfortunately, not all urban gardens are well-suited to birds. There are many that consist of large, gravelled areas or English lawns, for example, which have no ecological value for birds, insects and other creatures. Read on for tips on how to use the natural potential of your green space to create a bird-friendly garden.

Tip 1: Plant native shrubs and trees

Whilst exotic ornamental plants can be beautiful to look at, they do little to support native birds. Planting native shrubs and trees, such as the wild roses, arrowwood viburnum or rowan, provides food, shelter and nesting opportunities for a variety of bird species. Remember that dense vegetation offers more protection from predators and that over-pruning can be detrimental to bird survival. With that in mind, if invasive gardening is required, consider waiting until the breeding season is over to do it.

Hedge trimming
Hedge trimmingand maintenance should be finished before the breeding season [Photo: nikolaborovic/]

Tip 2: Create an insect paradise

A flowering garden with insect-friendly flowers, herbs or perennials attracts not only insects, but birds too. Most bird species are at least partially dependent on insects as a food source. So, wherever there are insects you will inevitably find birds. There are some species like swifts or redstarts, for example, which feed exclusively on insects. Having an insect-friendly garden will go a long way to attracting birds to your green space!

Always avoid the use of chemical sprays in your garden where possible. They are poisonous to both insects and birds.

Insect hotel
Insect-friendly usually also means bird-friendly [Photo: Anouska13/]

Note: Seed-bearing perennials and wild herbs not only provide habitats for insects, they also offer bird-friendly food for grain-eating wild birds, such as goldfinches or the chaffinches.

Tip 3: Feed the birds

Garden bird feeders offer great support to native wild birds, especially during the barren winter season. It is not important whether you build a garden bird feeder or buy one, as long as you keep it out of reach of domestic cats and other predators. You should also ensure that the food itself is protected from moisture and other contaminants.

Note: Fat balls are a natural and nutritious addition to any bird-friendly garden. They are a great alternative for feeding birds on the balcony as well as in the garden and are usually widely available in garden centres, pet food shops and even some supermarkets.

Tip 4: Provide a bird bath

You do not necessarily need a pond or a stream to keep birds happy. It is quite easy to make a simple bird bath from a shallow bowl or trivet. Bird baths can be especially helpful to garden birds on hot summer days. Whether you have a garden or balcony, birds can quench their thirst or take a refreshing bath in the cool water. As bird baths can quickly become a breeding ground for infectious bird diseases and parasites, it is important to clean them regularly.

Birdson a bird bath
A watering hole in the garden is always a welcome refreshment [Photo: La Renaissance Girl/]

Tip 5: Go with the seasons

If you are aiming for year-round feeding, make sure that you feed birds correctly and according to the season. Not all bird foods work all year round. It is best to avoid fatty winter feed with large grains during the breeding season as young birds do not tolerate it well. They are in more need of protein to support growth and large seeds (like sunflower seeds) can lead to digestive problems and blocked stomachs. Therefore, if you want to spoil your garden birds all year round, opt for a food that is suitable for young birds, too.

Tip 6: Take steps to prevent birds from hitting glass surfaces

Windows, balcony doors or free-standing glass panes for wind protection can be a serious problem for birds. The British Trust for Ornithology estimates that somewhere in the region of 30 million birds die each year as a result of window strikes. If you want to bird-proof your windows, the use of adhesive strips is the way to go. Unfortunately, the traditional black bird silhouette adhesives that you so often see are not as successful as you might think.

Dead bird
Windshield strike is a common cause of death for songbirds [Photo:]

Tip 7: Allow for a bit of wilderness

Whilst a tidy garden may appeal to you aesthetically, it likely has little to offer in terms of habitat and biodiversity. Short-cropped lawns, for example, offer much less food than a lively meadow with wild herbs and flowers.

Robotic mowers, which may be convenient and provide additional tidiness, are also a danger for young flightless birds and other garden animals. It is therefore recommended that you mow yourself and perhaps less frequently. Refrain from felling old trees with partially broken or dead branches unless absolutely necessary, as they provide important habitats for rare bird species and insects. The same applies to holes and cavities in walls and the façades of older buildings. Think twice before blocking them up because they also provide nesting opportunities for many wild bird species.

Garden nesting box
This opening in an old barn is inhabited by a redstart [Photo: Rhian Mai Hubbart/]

Tip 8: Offer nesting aids and nesting material

Where there is a lack of natural nesting sites, you can help by providing nesting aids. Cavity-nesting birds in particular often have a hard time finding somewhere to nest. Well-made modern homes and new, young gardens mean that there is now a lack of old trees and buildings with holes and cavities available as nesting space. Nesting boxes offer a good alternative here and are generally accepted by many bird species. It is important to note that different species prefer different sized entrance openings and that you will need to clean nest boxes properly. Find out which boxes are suitable for which bird species and what else you should consider in our special article on building your own nesting box.

Bird on a nesting box
Blue tits accept nest boxes well [Photo: IhorHvozdetskyi/]

You can also provide nesting material for open nesters and other bird species that do not use, or do not accept, nesting boxes. Leave brushwood and small branches left over from hedge trimming in a small pile and allow the birds in your garden to help themselves. A small bowl of clay will also provide excellent nesting material for house martins and barn swallows.

Tip 9: Dealing with cats

It is no secret that birds and cats do not get along. It is well known that the large numbers of domestic cats in urban settlements causes great damage to the population of native wild birds every year. Find out how you can protect your garden birds from cats and how you as a cat owner can make your garden a little more bird-friendly in our special article.

Cat on a nesting box
Even domestic cats makeexcellent hunters [Photo: Linda McKusick/]

Tip 10: Learn from the birds

Once your garden or green space is filled with birdsong, take the time to really study your newfound friends. By watching them closely, you will learn what they do and do not like and can make adjustments, and come up with bird garden ideas that suit their individual needs.

If you are thinking of taking up bird watching, visit our special article for helpful tips on how to enter the world of hobby ornithology.

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