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Encouraging birds to a garden

Bagpuss57Bagpuss57 South West Posts: 256

I have a fairly open garden and want to fill it with shrubs and a few small trees to encourage birds into my garden but don't know where to start. 

What are the best plants to use that will make my garden irresistible to birds?

I want things that won't be too invasive or grow horrifically tall as I need to be able to maintain them. 


  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 48,920

    Hi Claire, first thing I'd do is get some  feeding stations for the birds. Perfect time of year for that. Add some water - even just a little bird bath of some kind for them to drink and bathe. You'll get them coming in initially that way. 

    Plants which have berries are always a good start. Easy shrubs like Cotoneaster and Pyracantha are perfect. You can have them on boundary walls or fences so they don't take up a lot of room. Amelanchier is a great shrub/small tree which also has blossom in spring for bees and insects, and then berries for autumn. Any of the rowans (Sorbus)  would be ideal too. Pick ones with the brighter coloured berries as the birds will eat them first - reds and oranges. 

    Have a few evergreens near any feeders if possible, for birds to take cover from predators when feeding. 

    Hope that gives you a couple of ideas to start with  image

    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • raisingirlraisingirl East Devon, on the Edge of Exmoor.Posts: 6,314

    There are a few shrubs and plants that will give a home to birds who come to a bird table, but really, if you want lots of different bird species rather than just the familiar garden ones, you need a corner where you don't mow and let grass, weeds and whatever may come just be there. Our native birds like our native plants - and the native insects that feed on those. So you can't do better (and there's not much that's easier in gardening terms) than having a patch of weeds and wildflowers and preferably a small pond or 'informal' puddle of water where birds can get a drop of water and a quick splash.

    The birds are part of a chain of fauna and they come as part of a package with insects, spiders, slugs and snails. We have dozens of finches and tits, a woodpecker, martins and swallows, wagtails and song thrushes in our garden. You see most of them near the nettle and thistle patches. We do have robins, wrens and blackbirds too. 

    You may say we're lucky to live in a rural area and you'd be right. But our next door neighbours moved in and put up bird tables and kept their hedges beautifully trimmed when they first got here. They had pheasants and squirrels and a share in our robin. They saw the swallows because they have a pond where the birds drink. They were entirely unaware of all the other birds around until they sat on our 'patio' for an hour. They went home, took down the bird tables (because the pheasants and squirrels kept the smaller birds away - if you're in an urban area, then feeding stations are a good idea as long as you can keep cats, rooks and squirrels off them), put the strimmer away and were amazed. image

    Last edited: 11 September 2016 10:10:17

    “Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first” 
  • Cotoneaster horizontalis is best.  The berries on some of the others are less attractive to birds. If you plant it near a fence or wall it will grow up it - it doesn't cling , just lean, but it will also grow forwards over the ground. It will make a large shrub in time, but looks attractive. If you need to prune,  it is better to take out whole branches rather than chop off the ends.

    Wrens and dunnocks love fossicking about underneath, bees just love the flowers, blackbirds and thrushes love the berries. The leaves turn dark red before falling but the branches still look decorative and provide some cover.

    Hawthorn is another good one. If you have room you can let it grow into a small tree or large shrub, or you can use them as hedging. The flowers are pretty and good for bees and the berries are popular with the birds. The thorny branches give good protection against predators and make good nestsites.

    Holly is also good for year round protection.  To get you will need both sexes. If you are short on space the hermaphrodite J.C. van Tol is good and less prickly than some of the others, though it is plain green.It will fertilise others too.  Some of the other varieties are very pretty with variegated foliage of many shades. Research and/or check labels carefully - hollies seem to have been named deliberately to confuse: the 'Kings' are often females and the 'Queens' male!. If you are lucky the berries may last till X... so you can share a few!

    Don't forget seeds. Goldfinches love teasels and dandelion seeds too and other birds will like sunflowers. Though it makes for more weeding, you may think it worth it,  to watch a flock of goldfinches carefully removing the litte parachutes on the dandelions and leaving them in tidy piles as they eat the seedsimage

  • Bagpuss57Bagpuss57 South West Posts: 256

    Thanks guys these ideas are great, definitely want to try the amalenchier tree and the natural area. I do have problems occasionally with the neighbours cats but have just got a cat detector to see if that helps a bit. In late spring I had blackbirds, sparrows and one bluetit but by the summer they all disappeared and can't understand why. If I use all your ideas to make it better for birds hopefully I'll get them more often and they will decide to stay?! image

  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 48,920

    Claire - I moved into this house three years ago - there was no garden apart from a berberis, a buddleia and a laurel. It was slabs, gravel and grass ...and no birds. I've created a garden but feeding birds all year round made the biggest difference while I gradually got the plants in. Providing areas for them is all part of the process and you can add all kinds of plants that will benefit them.

    They will disappear a bit through summer because they find other food naturally. It's a gradual process and the important thing is to be consistent with your feeding. I now have blackbirds  (two obvious pairs last winter ) robins, blue, great and coal tits, wrens, goldcrests, sparrows, dunnocks and magpies etc. 

    I like a drink from a teasel leaf Tetley  image image

    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 48,920

    Only non alcoholic beverages  for me Tetley  image

    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • RedwingRedwing SussexPosts: 1,299

    Lots of good suggestions already.  I garden for birds and have a garden list of well over 100 species. The first question I would ask you, Clair, is what is your garden like already and secondly, what is the wider habitat?  This is an important question because this to a large extent determines what birds you could hope to attract to your garden.  If for example you live near a heathland, by making certain choices of what to grow you could attract heathland species or if you live near a marsh or reedbed, you could for example entice waders or reed warblers, if you see what I mean. Are you on a migration route? There is a really good book:

    that explores these ideas in more detail.

    There are a few things that will help any garden attract more birds; make a pond, the bigger the better.  Let the grass grow longer, don't deadhead too much, encourage insects and don't be too neat and tidy; allow your garden to be a bit messy.

    Last edited: 11 September 2016 20:39:40

    Based in Sussex, I garden to encourage as many birds to my garden as possible.
  • Hi There

    This is something I am also in the process of doing - when we moved in last year the garden was a sea of gravel with very few plants.

    This year I have eryngiums for the first time and have been totally amazed by just how many bees and types of bees have loved them.

    I have also found the bees and butterflies have loved the flowers on the mint, catmint, lemon balm, buddleja, scabious, sunflowers and lavender. I was also surprised to see their preference for Allium siculum over the other Allium flowers.

    We have a 1.5m x 3m patch where we sowed a box of 'wild flower' seed mix and has been a big success.

    As for birds we do struggle with several large seagulls, rock doves/pigeons, crows and a big flock of starlings which devour any food put on the floor and fatballs and scar smaller birds away. Over the winter we therefore ended up with just a range of bird seeds and nuts in bird feeders and were very successful encouraging goldfinches, siskins, tits, sparrows and chaffinches, but any time we put fatballs out the starlings and crows come in and scar everything else away. I am hoping the sunflower heads are of interest to the birds.  We are going to try teasels next year.

    Hope this is useful and I will take notes from other comments.

  • Hi Claire, to encourage birds in my garden, my hubby went on youtube and put some audio bird songs on my phone. I would play these while in the garden .we'd eventually got blue tits great tits, blackbirds, wrens, starlings, goldfinches and even a robins.

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