It may be too wet to garden, at least for those on the clay seam that cuts across Tatsfield, but there are still things we can be doing, apart from tidying up what the gales have left behind! Despite the rain and wind, the relatively mild weather over winter will have benefited a number of species, assuming we don’t get a nasty cold snap in March or April.
Bird boxes are easy to put up and not expensive to buy – they must face the right direction though or you will be wasting both time and money. They are best put up in the autumn as that gives them time to naturalise, but you can still do it now with a chance of a 2014 brood!
Where to site a nest-box depend on the species it is intended for. Boxes for tits, sparrows or starlings should be fixed two to four metres up a tree or a wall. Unless there are trees or buildings which shade the box during the day, face the box between north and east, thus avoiding strong sunlight and the wettest winds. Make sure birds have a clear flight path to the nest without any clutter directly in front of the entrance. Tilt the box forward
slightly so that any driving rain (not that we ever get any of course) will hit the roof and bounce clear. House sparrows and starlings will readily use nest-boxes placed high up under the eaves.
Open-fronted boxes for robins and wrens need to be low down, below 2m, well hidden in vegetation. Those for spotted flycatchers need to be 2-4m high, sheltered by vegetation but with a clear outlook. Woodpecker boxes need to be 3-5m high on a tree trunk with a clear flight path and away from disturbance.
Fixing your nest-box with nails may damage the tree. It is better to attach it either with a nylon bolt or with wire around the trunk or branch. Use a piece of hose or section of car tyre around the wire to prevent damage to the tree. Remember that trees grow in girth as well as height, and check the fixing every two or three years.
The quickest way to attract birds to the garden is by feeding them
· Insects for tits
· Berry based feeds for finches
· Finely chopped animal fat and grated cheese are welcomed by small birds, like wrens
· Sparrows, finches and nuthatches enjoy prising the seeds out of sunflower heads. Also, leave seed heads on herbaceous plants overwinter
· Niger seed for goldfinches
· Peanut based food for starlings, parakeets, nuthatches, jackdaws
· Fruit is favoured by thrushes and blackbirds. Scatter over-ripe apples, raisins and song-bird mixes on the ground for them. Consider planting berry-licious shrubs and trees, including favourites such as Malus, Sorbus,
Cotoneaster and Pyracantha.
Be aware that feeding birds can result in unwanted visitors. Peanuts certainly attract squirrels, which are avid nest robbers, and tend to destroy feeders too! So unless you are prepared to deal with them, it may be best to stick to squirrel proof feeders. Magpies and wood-peckers are also renowned for taking nestlings. Difficult to judge, as they are birds after all! If you are putting up bird-boxes, make sure holes are small enough to stop these larger raiders helping themselves to breakfast. Wood-peckers will even enlarge holes in bird-boxes to get at the contents if they can!
Next month’s column will be focused on insects – which are a key part of the food chain and will, in turn, attract other species, including birds, bats and amphibians (especially if you have a pond).