Birdsong with breakfast for wildlife gardeners
Monday 30th April 2012
Wren singing. Image: Stewart McDonald
As International Dawn Chorus Day (Sunday 6 May) approaches, gardeners who bring birdsong into their backyards may win prizes in the process, say The Wildlife Trusts and the Royal Horticultural Society.
Whilst television producers search for ‘The Voice UK’, garden birds are battling it out to be the loudest and proudest in their quest to attract mates and mark territory. Spring is when the dawn chorus is at its peak, generally during the first hour after sunrise. Resident UK species like blackbird and song thrush can be heard, along with summer visitors including chiffchaff and nightingale.
The dawn chorus is one of nature’s greatest events and gardeners can host it by creating space for songbirds on their patch. Through providing food, water, shelter and the right plants, gardens can be transformed into territory worth fighting for.
Morag Shuaib, The Wildlife Trusts’ Big Wildlife Garden Awards Project Manager, said:
“It’s not just wildlife that benefits from us making space for nature in our gardens. Attracting in songbirds means we can sit back and enjoy a sublime symphony.
“If your garden’s planting or wildlife-friendly features are attracting birds, you could also enter the Big Wildlife Garden competition, with the chance of winning some excellent prizes. Time is running out though – the closing date is Sunday 20 May.”
I’d like to encourage as many people as possible sign up to enter Defra’s Big Wildlife Garden Competition. It really is a win-win for everyone. Richard Benyon, Environment Minister
Helen Bostock, RHS wildlife expert, said: “Early summer is a busy time for songbirds. Give nesting birds and young fluffy fledglings a good start by avoiding clipping hedges and ensuring domestic cats are fitted with bells on their collars. Many bird food brands offer special mixes for ‘robins’, ‘blackbirds and thrushes’ or simply ‘songbirds’; these are usually high in insects, sunflower hearts and dried fruit. If feeding on a ground table, put out little and often to deter rodents.”
Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: “I’d like to encourage as many people as possible sign up to enter Defra’s Big Wildlife Garden Competition. It really is a win-win for everyone.
“The Government’s working hard to reverse the decline in wildlife and habitats – but we can all do our bit - whether it’s simply planting a few flowers on our doorsteps or planting whole wildlife gardens. We are committed to being the first generation to leave the environment in a better condition than we found it – and every effort counts.”
Here’s a guide to bonding with your garden birds:
The song thrush can often be the first to pipe up in the dawn chorus. It sings from an elevated position, repeating one melody before moving on to the next, and throwing in a bit of mimicry in between. Song thrushes feed on slugs and snails, so using an alternative to slug pellets is a great way to support this declining species.
A favourite of The Wildlife Trusts’ President Simon King OBE, the blackbird has a rich and fluid song. Blackbirds eat a diet of earthworms and insects, foraged from earth, grass or leaf litter. So make sure you have a shady spot, perhaps with a log pile, where leaves are allowed to accumulate. This will be especially helpful in droughts when dry lawns mean that worms go too far underground (to stay moist) for blackbirds to reach them.
House sparrows hang out in groups and have a chattering, chirruping call. There has been a sharp decline in numbers thought to be linked to reduced availability of insects to feed their chicks. Adult sparrows have a varied diet of seeds, insects, flower buds, berries and kitchen scraps. A garden full of shrubs, trees and grass will help attract insects, and grass allowed to grow longer is a good source of seed.
The largest member of the tit family, the great tit is known for its ‘teacher-teacher-teacher’ call. Hanging bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds will draw them in. Avoid whole, loose, peanuts as there is a risk these will be fed to fledglings which can choke on large, dry chunks.
Goldfinches are finding their way into more gardens, and they are a welcome addition, with their high pitched twittering call and colourful plumage. Their thin beaks mean they can access small seeds from thistles and teasels, and they are attracted to Niger seed feeders.
At first sight a rather plain grey/brown bird, but its markings are delicately beautiful, and it has a lovely warbling song. They are insect eaters, foraging from the ground, so good shrub or hedge cover and leaf litter will help them. They are probably best known for their promiscuous habits!
Blue tits are one of our most common garden birds. They have a tseeping call. Blue tits rely heavily on caterpillars at nesting time. You can increase your chances of having caterpillars in your garden by planting native trees, grasses, and even wildflowers that would normally be considered weeds, such as dock, nettles and dandelions (leave aside an untidy corner for them). Moths need native trees such as oak or birch, or hedge plants such as hawthorn or hazel. For really quick results sow some nasturtium seeds – white butterfly caterpillars love them.
Wrens produce an amazingly big sound for such a small bird. Their piercing song often ends with a huge trill. Wrens tend to like to remain hidden but you may catch a glimpse as they flit between shrubs. They eat insects and spiders, so have plenty of varied planting, including trees, shrubs and climbers.
Big Wildlife Garden competition
The Big Wildlife Garden Competition has been created to recognise the importance of individuals’ action for nature. It is run by The Wildlife Trusts and the RHS, with funding from The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). To find out how to enter visit www.bigwildlifegarden.org.uk.
International Dawn Chorus Day
International Dawn Chorus Day takes place on Sunday 6 May. On and around this date, Wildlife Trusts around the UK will be running early events from birdsong breakfasts to walks on urban and rural nature reserves. To find an event near you visit www.wildlifetrusts.org/whats-on.