Birds are an integral part of garden wildlife. They bring music to our ears, they sustain the local ecosystem and they’re wonderful to watch in action. A garden without birds would be an eerily quiet place, so encouraging birds to nest in our gardens can only be a good thing. When birds take up residency in your garden you are privy to their fascinating cycle of life, including courtships, nest building and the raising of their young.
The best time of year to attract nesting birds is spring. There are many ways you can attract them to your garden, from planting specific types of plants to providing the kind of nesting materials they would want to use for their homes.
Read on for top tips on attracting nesting birds to your garden with useful nest building materials and food sources, as well as a few pointers to keep them coming back each year…
Attracting nesting birds with plants
The kind of plants you choose for your garden will make all the difference to birds’ quality of life. Some plants are ideal for giving them shelter, others are edible, and others still make great nesting materials. Birds use a number of different organic materials for nest building, since they need to protect their eggs from predators, keep their body weight from squashing their eggs, and create sufficient insulation.
Native grasses are very popular with most bird types since they have long leaves the birds can snap off and weave into nests. The same goes for moss and lichen, which the birds will pick off and line their nests with. Trees and shrubs with rough barks are also useful as the birds can pull strands off them. It goes without saying that bird’s nests require twigs and sticks, so rather than raking everything away, you can leave easily accessible piles for them to take. You should also leave the seed heads on as a source of food for birds.
Native plant species
Native plant species like thistle plants also make effective nesting materials - and local birds will already be familiar with such plant materials. Seed-producing flowers are a good food source for certain bird species.
Mud is another useful organic material for nesting birds. Not all birds go for mud, but if you love to see White-winged Choughs, Magpie-larks, Welcome Swallows and Apostle birds, you might want to make sure you’ve got some soft, sticky mud available for them. Once the mud solidifies, these birds have highly resilient nests they can return to year on year. As an added bonus Mud is also used by some native bee species to pack holes in their nesting block to lay their eggs on bee bread
Other organic materials birds use for their nests
Birds don’t just stick to plants, twigs and mud when building their nests. Our feathered friends are highly resourceful and are known to use a range of other organic materials to make comfortable homes for themselves.
Animal fur is very popular with birds, as it is a great nest insulator and a very comfortable layer of bedding. If you have pets, rather than combing them and binning the hair you can take it outside and leave it for the birds to collect. It can easily blow away, so it’s a good idea to place it in shrubs and bushes, and between visible twigs. Mesh bags are also useful for the birds to pick the hair from. A word of warning – flea treatments could be toxic to birds, so don’t use hair that has recently been treated.
Thanks to its glue-like consistency, spider’s web is a strong weaving material. It’s a popular choice for little birds like Willie Wagtails and Brown and Striped Honeyeaters. As chicks get bigger in the nests, forcing them to stretch, spider’s web can hold it all together. This should be a great indicator of how smart birds really are! If you want to help the nesting process with spider’s web, consider leaving some timber and chunks of wood in your garden - spiders are likely to use these for their webs.
Although they can’t use them for nest building, birds get plenty of nutrition from eggshells in the form of calcium – something that tends to deplete when they are producing and laying their own eggs. It will help if you dry the eggshells in the oven and crumble them up, then sprinkle the pieces somewhere the birds are likely to notice them.
Other tips for attracting nesting birds
Install a bird box or two
Hollow nester birds prefer to find homes in the hollowed areas of trees, but these aren’t always in abundance. You can make hollow nesters’ lives easier by installing nesting boxes of some kind. If you want to line it, use hay or sawdust rather than straw, which can get moldy. Be sure to position it where potential predators like cats and squirrels can’t easily reach it.
Install bird baths and feeders
Birdbaths provide a much needed drinking source and somewhere for a quick splash around on hot days. Birds like to take their young for a little dip, so you are likely to catch some magical moments on the hotter days of the year. Have your camera at the ready!
Although we encourage the supply of natural food sources sometimes birds will be grateful for a ready-made food supply in the form of seeds. Bird feeders about the garden will certainly attract more feathered residents and maybe help them through the cold winters. This rusty hanging bird feeder is one good option, and it works well as a piece of attractive garden décor. You might also like this stylish zinc plate hanging bird feeder, which you can quickly and easily sprinkle seeds onto. However be careful about overfeeding your birds so they don’t become reliant on you for all their food or easy targets for local predators.
Stay away (and keep your cat away too)
Your backyard birds may well get used to your presence but if you get too close they’ll feel threatened and may abandon their nests (or box). It’s best to watch from a distance, and also to position any nesting boxes where curious pets can’t get to them. If your cat is a tenacious bird hunter, put a little bell on its collar to give your birds fair warning.
Essentially birds have similar basic requirements to us; they just want a comfortable and safe place to live, so if you provide the right nesting materials, a ready-made home or two and a good food and water source, you should see an influx of feathered visitors every year.