Just a flying visit...

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So, the house sparrow is back at the top of the pecking order, and blue tits are making a comeback. That’s according to the results of this year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.

The numbers of some species of birds visiting gardens have been falling, but many people have been doing their bit to help them by putting out food and water. It costs money, but it’s worth the effort and perhaps that’s why the sparrows are back.

And yet there are numerous natural resources in gardens – trees such as birch, rowan, holly and yew are all winners with birds, while bushes and shrubs like pyracantha, cotoneaster, berberis and hawthorn also provide good sources of food. Climbers, such as honeysuckle and ivy, are also extremely valuable. They provide shelter and fruits and attract insects which, in turn, are eaten by birds.

Ivy provides cover for over-wintering insects and spiders, and the tiny wren, among others, finds this a valuable resource. It also fruits in late winter when few other fruits are available to birds.

It’s also worth remembering the super-tidy, well-manicured garden isn’t necessarily good for birds. Seed-eating finches will benefit from a little careful neglect in dead-heading some plants, while creating a few piles of leaves and fallen twigs in secluded corners will help ground-feeders like dunnocks and low foragers such as wrens.

Try leaving some long grass to stand over winter. This provides sheltered habitat for many insects, which, in turn, are fed upon by birds.

Blackbirds, thrushes and robins also like a bit of undisturbed, leaf-rich jungle to explore for food in winter, and raking over a corner of the garden rubbish pile will also be much appreciated.

If you have space, grow flowers such as sunflowers, evening primrose, teasel, groundsel and shepherd’s purse. They will attract many beneficial insects and provide a source of seeds for birds, particularly from late summer through to winter.

Try tidying up your borders in spring, not autumn; this makes sure there are fallen leaves and dead plant stems for insects to hibernate in and somewhere for birds to forage for food.

If you don’t have bird-attracting trees and shrubs in your garden, then autumn’s a good time to plant hardy, preferably native species, to make your home a haven for birds – sparrows and many, many more – in the coming years.

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