Nest Boxes and Bird Feeders for the Garden

#BigGardenBirdWatch – My survey results.

Looking out of my potting shed window, I can see plenty of pigeons and a few robins. But where have all the song birds gone? Last weekend I took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, and I was shocked by the results. Hardly any birds in my garden.

The Big Garden Birdwatch is in its 40th year, starting out in 1979. Over half a million people take part; it’s the world’s largest garden wildlife survey. But what it has shown over the years is a downward trend, a drastic decline in the number of thrushes, starlings and sparrows.

Results show:

  • Song thrushes down 75 percent
  • Starlings down 80 percent
  • Blackbirds down 41 percent
  • House sparrows down 57 percent
  • Greenfinches down 57 percent
  • Robins down 31 percent

Birds on the increase are

  • Wood pigeons up 950 percent
  • Collard doves up 307 percent.

In my one hour survey I spotted:

1 great tit

3 blackbirds

2 robins

1 wren

1 pheasant

1 chaffinch

5 pigeons

It’s about five years since we heard the tap- tapping of a song thrush breaking open a snail shell on the garden path. And I can’t remember the last time we spotted a sparrow. It must be 10 years at least.

So, with plummeting numbers, what can we do to help. One positive action is to put up a nest box. Loss of habitat might be a factor in the decline of the sparrow. We are all keeping our homes in better repair, meaning there are fewer gaps under the tiles where sparrows like to nest.

I asked Shropshire company CJ Wildlife for advice on buying and siting a nest box and here’s some hints and tips I’ve gathered.

Each bird has its preference for a particular nest box. The entrance opening is a determining factor.

  • 28mm hole- suitable for blue tit, coal, great, crested, marsh and willow tits, pied flycatcher and tree sparrow
  • 32mm – house sparrow, tree sparrow, great tit, crested tit, nuthatch
  • Oval entrance hole – house sparrow, nuthatch and redstart.
  • Open fronted box- well hidden in foliage- robin, wren, spotted flycatcher, redstart, black redstart, pied and grey wagtail, song birds.

Buying a bird box

  • Choose one made from high quality wood, up to 18mm thick, for insulation.
  • Look for an FSC label – certified products contain wood in accordance with Forest Stewardship Council regulations. The council promotes responsible forest management
  • Birds will often return year after year to the same box, choose one that is going to last. WoodStone is a mix of wood and concrete which has good insulating properties and a long life. A 10 year guarantee is given.
  • Metal or some ceramic nests might not be suitable, as they could have low insulation properties.
  • The best bird boxes come with a metal plate protecting the entrance hole from predators. These plates can also be purchased for a few pounds to protect existing boxes that don’t have this feature.

Maintenance of bird boxes

Bird boxes should be emptied every year between the end of October and January 31st. This will help to prevent parasites building up. Wear gloves and a dust mask. Wash the bird box in hot soapy water, or use bird-safe cleaners. Leave to dry for a few days in a garage or shed, and return the bird box to its original position.

Bird boxes can be painted, outside only, with non-toxic water- based paint.

Siting a bird box

  • Chose a north or east- facing position, as bright sunshine will overheat and possibly kill young birds
  • If mounting bird box on a tree, use the dry side and avoid the side where water rushes down in heavy rainfall.
  • Choose a secluded place, away from patios and barbecues
  • Site near vegetation so that young birds making their first flight will have some cover
  • Protect open nest boxes with thorny vegetation around them
  • The best height for bird boxes is between 1.5m and 5.5m
  • A clear flight path into the box is needed
  • Avoid sites such as the top of a fence, where predators can easily access the bird box.

In my garden, I’ve started off with boxes for robins, sparrows and great tits. And I’m hoping to attract a nuthatch or two. I’ll keep you posted on how I get on. I’m saving up for one that has a camera inside. I’d love to watch nesting birds in action.

Many thanks to CJ Wildlife for supplying bird food, and feeders, which I’ll talk about next time, and substantial, high quality nest boxes. I’m looking forward to attracting more birds to my plot, and doing my bit towards reversing the downward trend in garden bird numbers.

Here are some links you might find useful.

BTO https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/gbw

Woodland Trust https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/animals/birds/

CJ Wildlife https://www.birdfood.co.uk/bird-feeders.html

CJ Wildlife nest boxes https://www.birdfood.co.uk/nest-boxes.html

Big Garden Birdwatch https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/

 

 

Please leave a comment below to be included in a prize draw for a Jupiter feeder and 1k suet pack, currently on sale for £18.99. Names will be randomly selected and there’s no cash alternative. Sorry, UK entries only. CJ Wildlife decision is final.

Photos of birds credit :CJ Wildlife.

Don’t forget to use the hashtag #BigGardenBirdWatch and #Winterwatch on social media to share your findings and stories from your weekend survey. And please feel free to share this blog piece on any social media platform. It all helps. Thank you.

Fairy Lights for the Greenhouse- and an update from this week’s BBC radio programme for gardeners

It’s amazing how a few little touches can make all the difference. In defiance of the cold, dark days, I’ve brightened up the greenhouse with mouldable lights. These are tiny fairy lights on a copper wire. They can be twisted around floral arrangements and basically they hold their shape without damaging the flowers. I’ve used chrysanthemums from the poly tunnel for this display. It makes a lovely warm glow at a time when we all need some winter cheer.

I’ve chosen indoor battery-powered lights from the Christmas range at Wilco . The 2.2m cable contains 20 warm white lights for £3.50 and includes the battery. I’m going to wrap them around plant pots in the greenhouse next.

We talked about mouldable lights on this week’s BBC radio gardener’s phone-in programme. You can listen in on your phone or computer on the i-player. I wrote about how to tune in Here. https://bramblegarden.com/tag/radiogardening-howto-i-player-bbc/.

You can listen to any radio programme for 28 days after the broadcast. And there are special programme clips and podcasts too. The gardeners’ phone-in is on BBC Radio Leicester every Wednesday between 11am and 12 noon on 104.9 FM and digital. And on Sunday there’s local radio’s longest-running gardening programme, Down to Earth hosted by Dave Andrews, between 12 and 1pm. We will be taking phone calls live in the studio this coming Sunday, December 3rd.

Here’s a link to this week’s Wednesday programme hosted by Ben Jackson. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05m8p6x. Move the timeline round to 2.07.57 where the programme starts. We talk about making Christmas presents from materials found in the garden- including jam jar succulents and cacti, and making bird feeders with fir cones. And our mid-morning studio treat, for all the staff, was Chocolate Tiffin made with fresh autumn raspberries from the plot.

Here’s some details on the prepared hyacinths we mentioned. These are some I grew to flower for Christmas 2016.

You will need to buy “prepared” hyacinths which means they have been put into cold storage to fool the bulbs into thinking they have had winter already. To complete the treatment at home, place the bulbs in John Innes No2 compost in 3″ pots. Put the pots in a cold dark cupboard in the potting shed, garage or basement. Or put them into a black plastic bag. Store them for 9 to 10 weeks at 9C. Water just once. At the end of 10 weeks, check over the pots and those with about an inch of leaves and a flower tip showing can be brought out into a cool bright place to grow on. You can make up displays for Christmas by selecting bulbs that look about the same height and putting them into larger plant pots together. Don’t bring them straight into a centrally heated house or the flowers won’t develop properly. The bulbs need to be grown on in cool conditions for another 22 days.

Here’s some hyacinths and forced narcissi I used to create an early spring display this year. You can also bring twigs of cherry blossom into the house and they will give an earlier flowering too. I wrote about forcing Paperwhites Here.

The scent is quite glorious. Interestingly, different varieties of hyacinths need varying periods of cold/dark treatment. The variety Pink Pearl needs 10 weeks, but Anna Marie needs just 8. So experimentation is needed if you wish to mix the varieties in a display. I would set the 3″ pots at weekly intervals and grow more than I needed so that I could select the right number of plants for my display. Just a reminder- always wear gloves when handling bulbs as they can cause skin irritation.

A very quick and cheap Christmas present idea we mentioned was jam jar succulents. Here’s the materials I took into the studio. You will need a small recycled jam jar, handful of ornamental washed shingle, small amount of moss from the garden, and a succulent or cacti from the garden centre. Mine is an offset from one of my own plants. You half fill the jar with shingle, wrap the succulent stem with moss and plant. Finish the present with a ribbon. Plants need virtually no water over the winter. In summer, water once a week with a tablespoon of water. Tip the jar up to allow any excess water to drain out. Do not allow the succulent to become waterlogged.

This one has been in the jam jar for two years.

Talking of Christmas presents ideas I love these RHS Gold Leaf Gloves. I’m practically living in them, they are so comfortable. I may be a fairly scruffy gardener, with old trousers and holes in my jumpers, but my hands are glamorous.

Here’s a quick peek of Ben’s garden, which we talk about on the show. It’s a 2.5 by 2m raised bed, a bit overshadowed and plagued by slugs. But we’ve planted winter veg, salads and flowers – to see how much we can grow in a small, less than perfect plot. The kale and chard keeps growing through the cold weather. You just harvest the outer leaves, leaving the growing tips to keep going. I’ll keep popping by now and again to see how Ben’s getting on with the project. I’ve got a matching plot at home so we can compare progress. I have to say, Ben’s is looking better than mine at the moment. My plot is on a windswept ridge, and his is in a pretty, walled garden.

And after all that talking- we tucked into my Chocolate and Raspberry Tiffin. I wrote the recipe the recipe Here. Click on the link to see the recipe.

Do you have any recipes to share – or ideas for Christmas presents using materials from your garden? I’d love to hear your views.