Create a cafe for hungry garden birds and feel good

Help garden birds through the winter and feel the warmth of nature

Garden birds robin

The rental property we moved to recently was built on land where an old bungalow used to be. Except for three conifers, the garden was cleared and laid to lawn except for an empty flower bed which I turned over the other week hoping to attract robins and blackbirds with worms.

The garden may be neat, but it isn’t bird-friendly.

We’ve always enjoyed birds visiting our garden – the usual sparrows, starlings, blackbirds, thrushes, blue tits and robins, or the less common greater spotted woodpecker. Compared to true birders, I admit to having limited knowledge of the myriad British bird species, but birds fascinate me just the same.

When we moved to New Zealand, we welcomed new visitors to our garden – the tui with melancholy song, the fantail flitting back and forth, and the tiny nectar sipping silvereye.

Living in Norfolk now, as well as birds of old, the countryside gives us opportunities to see new birds. In crop fields, beautifully coloured pheasants and wary partridges are easily scared, though we carry binoculars not guns. Goldfinches undulate along teasels lining the hedgerows while pink-footed geese rest on coastal mudflats and avocets sweep the shallows for food.

But all the while, our garden has been empty of birds, save for wood pigeons perching on overhead cables and doves nesting in the dense conifers. These gently cooing birds delight us of course and we soon learned the difference between their calls, but we miss the smaller garden birds, especially my favourite, the blackbird.

In New Zealand, blackbirds had regularly used our bird bath on long hot days, but here in Norfolk, only doves and pigeons have tried it for size and there isn’t much room!

To attract birds to our borrowed garden, so barren without berry-laden shrubs and insect-filled leaf litter, we turned to the Royal Society for Protection of Birds for help. The RSPB online shop is packed with ideas for feeders and foods to turn our birdy despair to birdy joy. We were so excited when our parcel arrived. Not so our neighbours who voiced concern our garden café would take away their regulars. It was tongue in cheek of course because there are plenty of hungry birds in winter.

With shorter days there’s less time to feed and in colder weather birds use more energy just to keep warm. Birds also need water when usual sources can freeze over. Check out the RSPB top ten feeding tips to help birds in winter.

Our first week of opening our garden cafe has seen a slow start but tweets are going around.

We’ve placed the metal feeding station close to our bird bath, hanging up a seed feeder, a nut and nibble feeder, and a covered robin feeder. We’ve placed a wire mesh ground feeder beside a tree and metal tulip cups on stems in the flower bed, filled with sunflower hearts and buggy nibbles—mealworms, suet and cereal, “a delicacy that few birds can resist,” says the experts.

Feathers in beautiful browns, Mrs Blackbird was first to try the nibbles and mark them as her own, perching on the fence dip-dipping her wings in time to her cluck-clucking. If a robin or even a dove approach, she sorties in to take charge. Mr Blackbird has discovered the ground feeder by the tree trunk where he can sneak in without being seen.

We’ve had our first blue tits, coal tits and a great tit too, but the goldfinches haven’t mastered the seed feeder yet. Luckily the heavier doves are content to clear up sunflower hearts from the grass below.

According to scientific studies, feeling connected to nature is key to our health and wellbeing and looking out for birds certainly brings a surge of happiness. From my writing desk, I have the best seat in the house to watch visitors to our bird café.

As I write, Mrs Blackbird is calling into the wintry dusk, lest any bird needs reminding who’s in charge. Our bird café is a wonderful investment and we can’t wait to see more garden birds stopping by, with Mrs B’s approval of course.

As well as providing a feeding station, planting native trees, shrubs and flowers will attract wildlife. If you live in the U.S, The Audubon Society provides excellent information on how to plant a bird friendly garden and in New Zealand, Forest & Bird is the place to go for attracting birds with plants and help with feeding garden birds, including nectar lovers!

I would love to hear about the birds who visit your garden and your tips on helping them through winter and also spring when food needs to be suitable for chicks.  

Image credit: Pixabay

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