How to woo garden birds

Outdoor Living

DINING OUT A siskin and a goldfinch enjoying sunflower hearts from a garden feeder.

Nature and rewilding
Pat Fahy

As temperatures fall, gardeners across Ireland are filling those bird-feeder tubes to the brim with peanuts, and enjoying an almost instant connection to the natural world. During the winter months, the birds’ natural food is at its scarcest, and they use up lots of calories just staying warm, so feeding stations really are vital.
For anyone new to the pleasure of the bird feeder and the activity it brings, don’t forget to keep them full; these birds rely on you! It’s well worth the tiny effort, for having birds in your garden is one of life’s little pleasures. Wildlife companions to your trees, shrubs and hedgerows in some ways.
It isn’t that these birds are rare, but how many other wild animals do we get to see up close? They’re not only a colourful marvel of nature but also a wonder in themselves: Birds are living dinosaurs. Imagine, scientists cannot find a break in the link between the dinosaurs of the Jurassic and the blue tit outside your window.
Any garden abundantly planted is full of food and cover for birds. At the same time a bird-filled garden is also the best pest control a gardener can have; ultimately, birds are a garden’s friend and a good measure of its well being.
Research has shown that garden that which receive supplementary feeding are also more likely to stay near your garden to nest the following spring and summer to charm you with their songs. If a garden can attract and support bird life, it is also rich in the insects and seeds they need to eat. I’d guess that half the gardens in Ireland have a bird feeder of some sort, such is the enjoyment that our garden birds bring, but the unofficial bird feeders are the places that didn’t get tidied in your garden.
By leaving dead flower heads to provide seeds, by leaving piles of wood for wrens to forage and long grass to give insects a place to complete their life cycle, this in turn provides food for many birds. At this time of year, any leaves left where they are over winter provide cover for natural bird food, which they will search for increasingly the colder it gets.
Many birds will appreciate these less than manicured spaces, but none more so than the goldfinch. Its natural food is seeds from plants like thistle and nettle. If you have teasel you’ll have plenty of goldfinch, and never run out of either.
If you want to guarantee seeing flocks of these colourful little birds in your garden, then invest in some niger seeds for your feeder. Fill it and they will find it. It’s worth getting the type of feeder that can take this smaller seed.
If you increase the variety of food and the places where birds can feed, then you will also increase the number and types of birds you will see, and may even see a few new visitors to add to your interest. Great-spotted woodpeckers have arrived again to these shores and they’re range is increasing. It’s largely believed that their return and spread is the result of well-stocked bird tables. Seemingly, they also have a strange obsession with pecking birch trees, so maybe don’t stand your bird table on a birch tree log. The inevitable has happened!
Remember too that some garden birds are not as agile as others and must feed from a flat bird table or even only on the ground, like robins, blackbirds and thrush. Maybe your Robin is more acrobatic than most? I’d be interested to know. We all depend on others for information – gardeners, naturalists, wildlife specialists or casual conversation with amateur enthusiasts. There’s so much happening out there in the wild west if only we could get out to see it.
If you specifically want to know why a wagtail wags or a dipper dips, then I know no better people than the members of Birdwatch Mayo and must thank Ruth-Ann Leak for help received. Bird lovers should be reminded that Birdwatch Ireland’s very popular Irish Garden Bird Survey begins the first week of December. More information can be found at, @BirdwatchMayo on Twitter or the Birdwatch Ireland Mayo Branch page on Facebook.

Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.