The Bird-Friendly Garden

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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.

Supplementary feeding

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

(Turdus merula)

FR: Merle

DE: Amsel

NL: Merel

ES: Mirlo

Blackbird.jpg 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

DE: Blaumeise

NL: Pimpelmees

ES: Herrerillo común

BlueTit.jpg Small insects and invertebrates, seeds Seeds, peanuts, fat
Bohemian Waxwing

(Bombycilla garrulus)

FR: Jaseur boréal

DE: Seidenschwanz

NL: Pestvogel

ES: Ampelis europeo

In the summer: insects; in the winter: berries and misteltoe fruit, fruit that have been softened by frost Fruit, frosted berries

(Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

FR: Bouvreuil pivoine

DE: Gimpel

NL: Goudvink

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.

(Fringilla coelebs)

FR: Pinson des arbres

DE: Buchfink

NL: Vink, boekvink, botvink, charlotte

ES: Pinzón vulgar

Chaffinch.jpg 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

(Streptopelia decaocto)

FR: Tourterelle turque

DE: Türkentauble

NL: Turkse tortel

ES: Tórtola turca

CollaredDove.jpg Seeds, fruit, greens Any kind of seeds, feeding mixes for chicken Collared doves prefer to pick up their food from the ground.
Common redpoll

(Carduelis flammea)

FR: Sizerin flammé

DE: Birkenzeisig

NL: Barmsijs

ES: Pardillo sizerín

Seeds, insects Seeds Common redpolls prefer to pick up their food from the ground.
Crested Tit

(Lophophanes cristatus)

FR: Mésange huppée

DE: Haubenmeise

NL: Kuifmees

ES: Herrerillo capuchino

Insects and small invertebrates, seeds Seeds, fat
European Robin

(Erithacus rubecula)

FR: Rouge-gorge

DE: Rotkehlchen

NL: Roodborst

ES: Petirrojo

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.

(Carduelis carduelis)

FR: Chardonneret élégant

DE: Stieglitz

NL: Putter, distelvink

ES: Jilguero

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

(Dendrocopos major)

FR: Pic épeiche

DE: Buntspecht

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

(Parus major)

FR: Mésange charbonnière

DE: Kohlmeise

NL: Koolmees

ES: Carbonero común

GreatTit.jpg Insects and small invertebrates, seeds Any kind of seeds, peanuts, fat

(Carduelis chloris)

FR: Verdier d'Europe

DE: Grünling

NL: Groenling

ES: Verderón europeo

Insects (especially Aphids and Ants), berries, buds, and seeds Sunflower seeds, peanuts, fat

(Coccothraustes coccothraustes)

FR: Gros-bec casse-noyaux

DE: Kernbeißer

NL: Appelvink

ES: Picogordo

Mainly seeds and fruit kernels, especially those of cherries, dried fruit, buds, also insects in the summer Seeds of any size
House Sparrow

(Passer domesticus)

FR: Moineau domestique

DE: Haussperling

NL: Huismus

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.

(Carduelis cannabina)

FR: Linotte mélodieuse

DE: Bluthänfling

NL: Kneu

ES: Pardillo común

Mainly seeds, during breeding season: insects Small seeds, peanuts, fat Linnets prefer to pick up their food from the ground.

(Sitta europaea)

FR: Sittelle torchepot

DE: Kleiber

NL: Boomklever

ES: Trepador azul

Nuthatch.jpg Insects and small invertebrates, seeds Seeds, fat
Short-toed Treecreeper

(Certhia brachydactyla)

FR: Grimpereau des jardins

DE: Gartenbauläufer

NL: Boomkruiper

ES: Agateador común

Treecreeper.jpg Insects and insect larvae, spiders, in the winter also seeds Fat and other soft food

(Carduelis spinus)

FR: Tarin des aulnes

DE: Erlenzeisig

NL: Sijs

ES: Lúgano

Mainly small seeds (e.g. birch and alder), and, in the breeding season, insects. Small seeds
Song Thrush

(Turdus philomelos)

FR: Grive musicienne

DE: Singdrossel

NL: Zanglijster

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

(Sturnus vulgaris)

FR: Etourneau sansonnet

DE: Star

NL: Spreeuw

ES: Estornino pinto

Insects and insect larvae, worms. From the end of the summer also fruits, berries, seeds Seeds, peanuts, fat
Tree Sparrow

(Passer montanus)

FR: Moineau friquet

DE: Feldsperling

NL: Ringmus

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

(Troglodytes troglodytes)

FR: Troglodyte mignon

DE: Zaunkönig

NL: Winterkoninkje

ES: Chochín

WinterWren.jpg Insects, insect larvae and eggs, other small invertebrates Fat and feeding mixes containing insects

(Emberiza citrinella)

FR: Bruant jaune

DE: Goldammer

NL: Geelgors

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 ÖKO-TEST

Landesbund für Vogelschutz in Bayern e. V.: Winterfütterung

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

Toni: Vogelschutz

Vogelschutzglas ORNILUX

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

Bakker: Nourrir les oiseaux en hiver

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