Birds in gardens need that little bit of extra help from us in order to thrive, especially during breeding season. While most birds breed in spring, some (notably blackbirds) do so in winter. One of the biggest problems urban birds face is the lack of suitable places and materials for nesting, but there's quite a lot that gardeners can do to make it easier for breeding birds. Setting up a bird house in your garden is one solution and will attract a wide range of species, from wrens to martins and tree swallows. Some species, though, will prefer to build their own nest rather than use a bird house, and these are the things you can do* to help them succeed.
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1. Finish trimming hedges before the end of winter
The hedges and trees in your garden provide invaluable opportunities for birds to nest, so if you are planning to trim the hedge of prune your trees, it's best to finish that type of work well before the breeding season begins in spring. We would recommend not doing any pruning or trimming work after late February.
Now is the time to be trimming and pruning – browse the best hedge trimmers in our buyer's guide.
2. Don't over-tidy your garden
Twigs and leaves blown to the ground during blustery wintry weather are important building materials for birds' nests. While large branches won't be helpful to them (and look unsightly in your garden), smaller bits and pieces are worth leaving until spring arrives.
3. Choose plants the fruit in winter and spring
Want to make a bird's life easier? Plant a holly tree in your garden: holly berries are beloved by many species of birds and are ready to eat in winter. Also consider planting ivy, hawthorns, and cotoneaster, and leave the rose hips on your rose bushes.
4. Be careful about where you place bird feeders
Bird feeders can be very helpful to hungry birds in winter, but they can also be a hazard to fledglings. Bird feeders almost also attract grey squirrels, who are prone to raiding birds' nests, too. If you do want a bird feeder in your garden, try to hang it as far away from any trees and hedges as possible, and get a squirrel-proof design.
5. Leave out water and nest building materials
Leaving out food is one way to help, but birds can also have trouble locating reliable sources of fresh water in cities. Try to leave out a shallow saucer of clean water always in the same spot and change the water regularly.
Next, help birds source building materials for their nests by leaving out short pieces of garden twine (about two inches long each), small twigs, and even used matchsticks. Have a pet you regularly brush? The pet hair you collect can also be left out as an insulating material for a nest.
*Tips developed in collaboration with GardenBuildingsDirect.co.uk