Monday, 16 November 2015

NATURE IN NOVEMBER: Attracting Birds to Your Garden Part 1...

Up first: attracting birds to your garden PART 1, SETTING UP YOUR FEEDING STATIONS...

Autumn is the ideal season to start inviting birds into your garden; once you have your feeding stations and feeding routine set up you’ll soon establish a regular community of birdy visitors! Birds will remember and return to good feeding areas. If you start attracting birds in autumn it means that when winter comes the birds in your area will likely depend upon your garden as a supply of food. So, it is important that once you start feeding, you don’t stop! Supporting the birds in your garden is a truly rewarding activity and one that makes for a really fun past-time too.

Today I’m just going to focus on the main, simple steps you can take to attract and support your garden birds. But watch out for more Nature in November bird posts including a guide to feeding in winter, purchasing and siting nest-boxes, making your own suet cakes and more!


If you want to attract a wide variety of birds to your garden, it’s important to offer a variety of feeding stations. When setting up your stations, the most important thing to remember is that not all birds will feed on a bird-table; some are ground feeders whilst others prefer hanging feeders. Setting up feeding stations at different heights and levels of cover is key. Here’s a quick guide to setting up four basic stations, we can get a bit creative later:

STATION 1 – A raised bird-table

Raised bird tables are one of the most popular forms of feeding station. The height of a table like my one pictured above means that it can easily be viewed from a chair or through a window so it is perfect for a morning of bird spotting. For birds, the height is an advantage as it means they are out of the reach of predators such as cats and can easily flit to and from from a nearby branch or tree.

Choosing a bird table:

When choosing your bird table, consider these points to make sure your table is bird-friendly and practical as well as attractive:
  • In wooden bird tables look for a removable bottom or sliding plastic tray that can be easily cleaned. Hygiene is important and bird tables should be cleared of old uneaten food, bird droppings and dirt regularly to help prevent diseases. The RSPB sell good non-toxic cleaners here.
  • Choose one with a sloping roof. Roofless bird tables are great for bigger birds and for clear viewing but choosing one with a roof is the best way to keep the food fresh and dry for longer and with the unpredictable autumn and winter weather, roofed tables are your best option!
  • Choose a bird table with a large surface area for feeding to prevent fights between birds. The RSPB recommends 3-4 square feet as ideal.
  • In terms of design, simple is best. Drainage channels are important to help rainwater slide off. However designs with nest boxes or bird baths incorporated are not a good idea. It is important to invest in a strong, sturdy design that can withstand a variety of weather conditions and lots of use.

Siting your bird table:
Choosing a good site for your bird table is crucial. Plonking one in the middle of your garden might be the best view for you, but if there is a large distance between the table and the nearest form of cover, it will deter shyer birds from visiting. Choose a position that is:

  • About two metres from cover: A bush, tree or shrub gives birds a place to perch and survey the bird table to check it is safe to feed before visiting it (and also a place to dart to if startled).
  • In the open:  Although nearby cover is important, the spot should otherwise be in the open with a good all round view so that birds can check to see they are safe from predators whilst they feed.
  • Quiet: If you can, place your table in a quiet spot. For example, away from children’s play areas, fences that back on to roads. Place it away from your house – but not so far that you can’t view it from a window of course!

STATION 2 – Ground Feeding

Providing food on the ground will encourage more ground-feeding birds to visit your garden; including chaffinches, starlings and blackbirds. Here’s some good general advice to think about when putting out food:

  • Not too much; once you have gauged how many birds are visiting your garden try and keep the amount of food on the ground relative to that. Leftover food that remains overnight will attract rats which carry diseases.
  • Space the food out in different areas, this will reduce the number of birds competing for one patch. Place some food in the open and other food under cover in order to attract the shyer birds. 
  • Consider using some ground feeding trays such as this one from the RSPB, alternatively they should be available in most garden centres. Mesh ground feeders like these mean that food is kept dryer and fresher for longer. It also makes it easier to remove uneaten food at the end of the day.
  • If you have a lot of cats in your area, consider buying a ground feeding protector cage. These cages allow birds to flit in and out whilst keeping cats at bay meaning the birds will feel a lot safer when feeding.

STATION 3 – Hanging Feeders

Hanging feeders will make one of the biggest differences to the types of birds visiting your garden. I would suggest starting out with the two main designs of feeder and then experimenting with specialist designs later on as you figure out what works best in your garden. Generally speaking, there are two varieties of hanging feeder: seed feeders and nut feeders. Seed feeders will attract birds such as finches, siskins, sparrows and members of the tit family to your garden. Nut and nibble feeders are mesh designs that will attract species that cling including tits, nuthatches and even woodpeckers! Hanging feeders are my favourite type of feeder, I love watching the birds practically queue up to use them. Here’s some tips for buying and siting feeders:

  • If your garden is visited by squirrels and magpies as well as the smaller birds, invest in a seed feeder with metal fittings and perches. These are more expensive but speaking from experience with plastic feeders, if you have a squirrel nearby they can chew through plastic and break your feeder in under 24 hours!
  • If squirrels are a big problem – cute as they may be – then invest in a “feeder guardian” a metal cage fitted to the seed feeder to prevent squirrel ‘s accessing the feeder. I also like to feed the squirrels in autumn time, so consider buying a specialist squirrel feeder to keep everyone happy!
  • Steel mesh feeders are the only safe way to feed peanuts to wild birds, whole or large chunks of peanuts are a choking hazard; mesh feeders ensure the nut is only pecked at. Mesh feeders can also be filled with suet nibbles, which are especially popular in the winter-time.
  • Hang your feeders on strong and sturdy branches. If you can, find a forked branch from which to hang the feeder behind and prevent it falling off. Spreading your feeders out across your garden in areas of both low and high cover will enable you to cater for a variety of feeders.
  • If natural trees aren’t available in your garden, then invest in a feeding station such as these ones, it provides lots of arms from which to hang feeders and is popular with many species.
  • The more feeders you have the wider the variety of seeds and foods you can offer, in turn attracting more birds to your garden. However, bird feeders should be emptied of old food and cleaned regularly to ensure good hygiene. Therefore, only put up as many feeders as you have time to maintain.

Left: A steel mesh peanut feeder / Right: A suet ball cage feeder

STATION 4 - Water: drinking and bath-time!

Bird's need water to drink and bathe in and providing a bird bath is a quick way to make your garden more appealing to the birds in your area! A bird bath can be as simple as placing a dish of fresh water in the garden, pretty designs are there for us not the birds! Still, there are some key points to note that will help your provide the most suitable bird bath in your garden:

  • It should have sloping sides with a shallow approach to the water to allow birds of all sizes to visit.
  • Like feeders, providing two or more water stations around your garden at different levels is the ideal way to cater for lots of birds. A dish at ground level, a hanging ceramic bird bath on a sturdy branch and a standing bird bath on the lawn are all good examples.
  • If you put out a dish of water it is a good idea to place a rock or stone in the water to provide a perch.
  • Site your bird bath somewhere with good visibility and with nearby trees and bushes to fly to for cover, as birds tend to be at their most vulnerable when they bathe.
  • A tip from the RSPB: make your own bird bath using an old dustbin lid sunk into the ground with a thin layer of gravel on the bottom, to provide grip for the birds.


  1. Thanks for your bird ideas Annie, they need all the help they can get.

  2. Thanks for all the good info. Looks like a great project and a nice garden piece worth putting in the yard. Thanks for all the pics too. That really helps.

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