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February

Feed the birds

I’m a stay-at-home ‘twitcher’ - liking nothing better than settling down in a comfy seat, with a good view of the garden, to take a mental note of the comings and goings of a wide range of birds. From autumn to spring, I can track the seasons as migrants pass through. During the autumn, blackcaps and other birds flood in from Europe to beat the deep freeze, while insect eaters, such as martins and swallows, are flying south to seek out warmer climes. Even in the UK, blackbirds from the Eastern counties go west, while others come into replace them from the near continent. Watch out for some surprises, too, because global warming has meant that more exotic European species of birds are visiting. Like all pilgrims, they’re on the look-out for a safe place to stop over where they can get a hearty breakfast and a drop to drink. Your garden can be the perfect oasis. 

Ways to encourage birds to stay

  • Berried plants – berberis, cotoneaster, mahonia, privet and pyracantha
  • Seeding plants – golden rod, Michaelmas daisy, snapdragon, teasel and wallflower
  • Native plants – hawthorn, ivy, holly, spindle and guelder rose
  • Extra food –dried fruits, flaked oats, grated cheese, suet, meat scraps, peanuts and sunflower seeds
  • Fresh water – topped up daily for bathing and drinking
  • Natural shelter – hedges, ivies, shrubs, trees, evergreens and other dense cover
  • Bird boxes – for winter roosting and nesting
     

What to plant Growing the right plants in your garden will go a long way to making it seem attractive to garden birds. Concentrate on flowers, seeds and berries. Choose late-flowering plants that are loved by insects - a meal-ticket for insect-eaters, so that they can get their fill before migrating south. Add in a scattering of plants for seed-eaters, such as greenfinches and goldfinches, as well as berrying plants that provide food for a wide range of resident and visiting birds, allowing them to pile on fat reserves in readiness for winter. If you are cunning, you can get the same plants to do more than one job. Native shrubs and trees are best. In a small garden, you could incorporate native hawthorn or hazel in a hedge – leaving trimming to late winter once the berries have been eaten, but before nesting gets underway. Choose a variety of berrying shrubs to provide food for the longest period – berberis, cotoneaster, pyracantha and viburnum are among the most popular. See ‘Berried treasure’ for more ideas.

  • Plants in Flower; If you want to enhance your borders try Camellia, Clematis Helleborus and Rhododendron.  Spring bulbs are also starting to appear such as Snowdrops and Crocus.
  • Prune summer flowering shrubs and thin out the dead foliage from the borders.
  • Feed the herbaceous borders by turning over the soil and adding well rotted manure or compost.  Spread between the plants but do not touch the leaves.
  • Time to sow Sweet Peas and plant new Grape Vines.
  • Trim flowering Heathers when flowers die off.
  • Prune hard and flowering shrubs such as Buddleja.
  • Divide snowdrops after flowering.
  • Plant Lily of the Valley crowns.
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