The Bird-Friendly Garden
Why supporting bird life in your garden?
Many people enjoy attracting birds in their garden just for the pleasure of bird watching or hearing them sing. Now birds certainly also have an useful ecological role for gardeners such as hunting harmful insects or bringing nutrients to the earth with their droppings.
Bird population have damatically decreased in Europe mostly due to the destruction of their habitat. Most biologists encourage people to help maintaining bird populations offering them food an nesting opportunities until better times come: In the event that humans will be able to change their relationships to the environment and to restore a natural habitat for birds, the artificial maintaining of bird populations would have at least saved species from exctincting.
Observations by biologists have demented assumptions that supplementary feeding could have detrimental effects on birds (birds becoming "lazy", leaving from looking for food by themselves, risk that parents would feed their young with unsuitable food, hygiene problems at feeding facilities, etc.). As a matter of fact, birds keep searching actively for food by themselves as long as they find some and know exactly what kind of food is suitable for their young. Experiments have shown that supplementary feeding of birds had positive effects on populations. For more details, refer to my references below.
Therefore, feel free to set up feeding facilities in your garden or on your balcony, but you should also be aware of other environmental aspects like the following.
Some environmental aspects of bird supplementary feeding
- If you collect some food during a walk in nature, be careful not to plunder the site of your collection: The local birds need this food too and you should leave enough seeds to allow sufficient reproduction of the plants. Suitable seeds for collection are seeds of Dandelion (Taraxacum), Nettle (Urtica) and thistle (Cirsium). Nevertheless, you could rather reserve some space to those plants in your garden.
- When looking at the labelling of the bird feeding sacks in supermarkets, I could not find out where they originate from, only the company responsible for the "bringing into circulation". According to NABU and Lohmann (see references below), bird feeding packs offered in shops are mostly imported from Eastern-European countries and the import of bird-feeding mixes is suspected to be the main cause of the spreading of the common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) that was brought originally from America to Europe. The plant is spreading rapidly in Europe and provokes violent allergic reactions in people affected by hay fever. Preferably prepare your own bird feeding mix or check for the "Ambrosia controlled" symbol on the packaging. Some consumer organisations will inform you on the Ambrosia pollen contents of commercial bird feeding mixes (like "Öko-Test" in Germany). Beside of this, importing bird-feeding articles from far away is linked with pollution due to transportation.
- Considering the huge sacks of sunflower seeds for birds that are sold in supermarkets, commercial bird feeding articles probably originate from monocultures. Now, monocultures and industrial agriculture are main enemies of birds: Due to the removal of bush rows / walls delimiting field to obtain large cultivated fields lead to the loss of habitat (shelter and source of food), the to tightly arranged crop rows preventing birds landing on fields, etc. are thought to be the main cause of bird population decrease. Thus, buying those products, we only give birds an ersatz of what we have withdrawn them.
You will therefore understand that bird supplementary feeding might make sense in order to maintain bird populations that are at risk, but that a better solution is to preserve or restore their habitat, as far as possible. If you have a garden, you have to some extent an opportunity to lay it out in order to attract them and to grow plants that can offer shelter and food. The next section will offer hints on simple measures to support bird life in your garden.
How to support bird life in your garden
- Trees, bushes, and climbing plants can offer a shelter and nesting opportunities as well as food supply to birds.
- Weeds are a habitat for insects which are in turn a source of food for many species of birds. Some birds feed their young on weed seeds, like the seeds of Dandelion (Taraxacum). Therefore, do not clear frantically all weeds in you garden and allow some wild space in it.
- Plant seed-producing flowers such as sunflowers in your garden and leave them on stem or on the floor for the winter.
- Bushes carrying berries like juniper can offer a nice meal to birds that rather feed on soft food.
- Do not use chemicals (pesticides) in your garden: These can poison or affect the reproduction of birds especially in birds that feed on insects, due to bioaccumulation.
- Do not place feeding facilities near windows because of the risk of collision for birds who are not able to recognise glass panes or are deceived by glass reflection. Equip windows with bird protection glass which bear UV-rays reflective structures that are perceptible to birds without impeding your living comfort.
- Make your own compost and make leaf heaps (e.g. to protect your plants in the winter) in which insects and worms (thus food for birds) proliferate.
- Have a drinking and bathing facility available, such as a small pond or a bird bath.
- Beekeepers usually clear drone larvae from their hives in the spring: contact a local beekeeper to obtain some of the removed combs and hang them in your garden since these larvae offer a precious source of food, especially for spring broods.
- Have some sand available near feeding facilities: birds ingest coarse sand grains that facilitate the digestion of seeds.
Some examples of birds that might appear in your garden and their feeding needs
|Bird||Picture||Natural Feeding Resources||Supplementary Feeding You Can Offer||Remarks|
|Small insects and invertebrates living on the ground, in the winter also berries and small fruit||Seeds, peanuts, oat flakes, fat, raisins, apples||Blackbirds prefer to pick up their food from the ground.|
| Blue Tit
(Cyanistes caeruleus, Cyanistes caeruleus)
FR: Mésange bleue
ES: Herrerillo común
|Small insects and invertebrates, seeds||Seeds, peanuts, fat|
| Bohemian Waxwing
FR: Jaseur boréal
ES: Ampelis europeo
|In the summer: insects; in the winter: berries and misteltoe fruit, fruit that have been softened by frost||Fruit, frosted berries|
FR: Bouvreuil pivoine
ES: Camachuelo común
|Seeds and buds of fruit trees, also insects in the breeding season||Sunflower seeds||Bullfinches prefer to pick up their food from the ground.|
FR: Pinson des arbres
NL: Vink, boekvink, botvink, charlotte
ES: Pinzón vulgar
|During breeding season: mainly insects and spiders, otherwise: seeds, fruits from plants near the ground, berries||Seeds||Chaffinches prefer to pick up their food from the ground.|
| Collared dove
FR: Tourterelle turque
NL: Turkse tortel
ES: Tórtola turca
|Seeds, fruit, greens||Any kind of seeds, feeding mixes for chicken||Collared doves prefer to pick up their food from the ground.|
| Common redpoll
FR: Sizerin flammé
ES: Pardillo sizerín
|Seeds, insects||Seeds||Common redpolls prefer to pick up their food from the ground.|
| Crested Tit
FR: Mésange huppée
ES: Herrerillo capuchino
|Insects and small invertebrates, seeds||Seeds, fat|
| European Robin
|Insects, insect larvae, caterpillar (for the young), small invertebrates living on the ground, in the winter also vegetal food||Soft food, like grated dry meat, finely cut dried berries, small seeds, oat flakes soaked with oil, living flour worms||Since soft food perishes quickly, only serve small portions at once.|
FR: Chardonneret élégant
NL: Putter, distelvink
|Thistle seeds, other fine seeds, also insects during breeding||Sunflower seeds, peanuts, fat||Goldfinches prefer to pick up food from the ground.|
| Great Spotted Woodpecker
FR: Pic épeiche
NL: Grote bonte specht
ES: Pico picapinos
|In summer: mainly those insects that bore into trees such as the larvae of wood boring moths and beetles; in winter: seeds from cones||Seeds-and-fat mixes, coconuts|
| Great Tit
FR: Mésange charbonnière
ES: Carbonero común
|Insects and small invertebrates, seeds||Any kind of seeds, peanuts, fat|
FR: Verdier d'Europe
ES: Verderón europeo
|Insects (especially Aphids and Ants), berries, buds, and seeds||Sunflower seeds, peanuts, fat|
FR: Gros-bec casse-noyaux
|Mainly seeds and fruit kernels, especially those of cherries, dried fruit, buds, also insects in the summer||Seeds of any size|
| House Sparrow
FR: Moineau domestique
ES: Gorrión común
|Seeds, sprouts, fruit. In the summer also insects, insect larvae and small invertebrates||Any kind of seeds, peanuts, fat||House sparrows are only able to pick up their food from the ground, therefore, feeding facilities are not adequate for them.|
FR: Linotte mélodieuse
ES: Pardillo común
|Mainly seeds, during breeding season: insects||Small seeds, peanuts, fat||Linnets prefer to pick up their food from the ground.|
FR: Sittelle torchepot
ES: Trepador azul
|Insects and small invertebrates, seeds||Seeds, fat|
| Short-toed Treecreeper
FR: Grimpereau des jardins
ES: Agateador común
|Insects and insect larvae, spiders, in the winter also seeds||Fat and other soft food|
FR: Tarin des aulnes
|Mainly small seeds (e.g. birch and alder), and, in the breeding season, insects.||Small seeds|
| Song Thrush
FR: Grive musicienne
ES: Zorzal común
|Omnivorous, eating a wide range of invertebrates, especially earthworms, snails, as well as soft fruit and berries from the end of the summer.||Berries and feeding preparations containing insects|
FR: Etourneau sansonnet
ES: Estornino pinto
|Insects and insect larvae, worms. From the end of the summer also fruits, berries, seeds||Seeds, peanuts, fat|
| Tree Sparrow
FR: Moineau friquet
ES: Gorrión molinero
|Seeds, sprouts, small fruit as well as insects and small invertebrates||Any kind of seeds, peanuts, fat||Tree sparrows prefer to pick up their food from the ground, but are also able to pick it up from feeding facilities if necessary.|
| Winter Wren
FR: Troglodyte mignon
|Insects, insect larvae and eggs, other small invertebrates||Fat and feeding mixes containing insects|
FR: Bruant jaune
ES: Escribano Cerillo
|Insects in the breeding season, otherwise: seeds||Any kind of seeds, flakes|
Many thanks to my boyfriend Peter Kamphuis for his contributions to the photographs.
In the German Language
Berthold, P., Mohr G.: Vögel füttern – aber richtig: anlocken, schützen, sicher bestimmen. Franckh-Kosmos Verlags-GmbH & Co., Stuttgart 2006; ISBN: 3 440 10800 7
Lohmann M.: Das 1×1 der Vogelfütterung: Futter und Futterstellen für das ganze Jahr, die wichtigsten Vogelarten. BLV Buchverlag GmbH & Co. KG, München 2007; ISBN: 978 3 8354 0221 8
May H.: Allergiegefahr am Vogelhäuschen: Vorsicht vor Ambrosia-Samen im Winterfutter. In: NABU: Naturschutzheute 1/08, Naturschutz heute Verlag, Berlin 25. Januar 08; ISSN: 0934-8883
Schlumberger A.: 50 einfache Dinge, die Sie tun können, um die Welt zu retten und wie Sie dabei Geld Sparen, Westend Verlags, Frankfurt/Main 2004. ISBN: 3 938060 01 8
In the French Language
Lesaffre G., Levesque C., Risi E.: Le traité Rustica des oiseaux du jardin. Editions Rustica, Paris 2007. ISBN: 978-2-84038-709