Strictly for the birds

Expect the unexpected: Blackbirds, robins, a few varieties of tits and even the occasional jay are the former. But not pheasants such as the one, pictured, enjoying a free meal. That’s one of the latter.

A pheasant drops in for lunch.

He was making the most of the food put out to help birds – all birds – make it through the winter. Normally, I just hear him calling in the woodland, but as the cold bites and food sources dry up, he has joined numerous other birds using my garden as a source of vital nutrients.

But it’s not just my garden which is proving to be a life-saver. Every garden, whatever its condition, should have something to offer the birds. Most people like to see the blue tits squabbling on the bird feeders; to wile away the time, they hunt for over-wintering insects – some beneficial, some not – and act like an environmentally-friendly pesticide.

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Blackbirds are also beneficial, although I do sometimes wonder why they have to make such a mess, digging their way through the soil in beds and borders in their search for food.

Some birds – like the sparrowhawk , for example – aren’t popular with all garden owners, but the meat-eater helps maintain a healthy population of other birds by weeding out the old, the infirm and the slow. If there are plenty of shrubs and trees nearby, the fittest and fastest of small birds can take refuge to escape the mercurial predator.

There are some 15 million gardens in the UK and they are estimated to cover about 270,000 hectares – more than the area of all the national nature reserves in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Each garden on its own may be small, but together they form a mosaic of habitats for wildlife.

So, get in on the act – plant a tree to provide food and shelter for many types of wildlife. You don’t have to have a big garden – trees like crab apple, pussy willow or hazel will thrive in small spaces. You can even grow a tree in a large container.

To make things even more inviting, create a pond. Ponds are a magnet for wildlife, attracting frogs, toads, newts, dragonflies and other insects. Ponds also provide water for birds. And if you haven’t got much space, use an old bath or sink.

And issue the invitation to all birds – put out food (and fresh water) every day and they will all come.