Garden birds prefer gardens to be a bit messy in order to thrive

Robin the most commonly seen bird in UK back gardens

Garden birds don’t like gardens (backyard in America) to be too tidy. “[Birds] need a slightly messy space. They need leaf litter, a bit of rotting wood at the back of a hedge”, said Lucy Hall, the editor of BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine which has published a report on the sightings of some of Britain’s best-loved garden birds.

Robin the most commonly seen bird in UK back gardens

Robin, the most commonly seen bird in UK back gardens. Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

There are two major aspects to this survey. Firstly, the Covid-19 pandemic has, as you know, resulted in many people staying at home for long periods of time. This must result in them watching their garden, if they have one, far more often than normally which allows them to see birdlife. Secondly the overall conclusion is that sightings of garden birds are declining which is worrying. It may be partly to do with increased tidiness of back gardens as, for instance, hedges are being removed and properties are being smartened up. Lucy Hall said: “More hedges are coming down. People are also repurposing front gardens for parking. So the sorts of habitats we provided are being ripped out.”

The report asked more than 2,500 readers to report on the species they saw on their property. Sightings of wildlife in general were up by 11% for the reasons stated above. However, sightings of blackbirds were reported by 85% of readers in 2019 which is down from 90% in 2018. Sightings of house sparrows have fallen to 75% from 79% over the same period and blue tit sightings have fallen to 75% from 80%.

There’s been a similar decline in starling sightings down to 61% from 65% and chaffinches have dropped from 47% to 41%. Robins were the most common bird to be sen in back gardens with 91% of respondents saying that they saw one.

In addition to having a slightly messier back garden, which may displease some homeowners, bird conservation can be enhanced by providing food and water to attract birds to a garden particularly during winter and early spring. Some birds such as thrushes and dunnocks feed on the ground so some food should be scattered rather than provided in a tubular seed feeder. Alternatively bird tables are suitable for all. Fat balls in nylon mesh bags can trap feet or beaks and are less suitable.

Bird feeders and tables should be cleaned regularly using a 5% disinfectant solution. Water containers should be rinsed regularly. Ideally feeders should be in a quiet spot and sheltered from wind so birds can go to protective cover when needed.

Lucy Hall advises that if you want birds to treat your garden as more than a feeding station you should plant trees and retain or grow hedges and ensure that there is good shrub cover. Honeysuckle, a flowering plant, attracts insects which birds can feed on.

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