Gardening for Birds and Bees

I did my first Zoom wildlife gardening course on Saturday which went really well. It’s definitely a different experience but I had a beekeeping couple join the session who live in the Netherlands with a large area of land, so obviously the advantage is that I can reach out far more with online courses. Part of the ‘wildlife’ factor is of course birds, and we talked about how valuable they are to provide pest control, as long as we provide the right habitat for the birds to search out their caterpillar and aphid prey.

This weekend in the UK was the Big Garden Birdwatch, run by the RSPB. I spent an hour looking out for the birds over lunchtime, and although I had put out a small amount of food in the kitchen window feeder along with a handful of dried mealworms on top of a chicken run, the interesting thing was to watch the birds in other areas of the garden.

  • 1 robin
  • 2 blackbirds
  • 2 dunnock
  • 1 blue tit
  • 1 great tit
  • 1 wren

The dunnocks hop around the chicken runs hoping to pick up layers pellets, and tend to stay very near the hedges. They scuttle around to the point where I have to peer to see if they are birds or rats…!

I have a pair of blackbirds who – if they’re the same pair – tried to nest in the garden twice last year and each time abandoned their attempts. I was relieved as both were in very poorly-chosen spots; as there are 3 cats next-door, most spots are questionable sadly.

There is a pair of robins too but I only saw one for the BGBW, and wrens flit across occasionally, and fortunately one appeared during my hour’s watch so could be counted.

The blue tits love the feeder which I have stuck on the kitchen window…I would show you a photo but my windows are filthy and – my excuse for not cleaning them – home to an awful lot of resident spiders.

The most impressive thing I watched was the great tit. (I think I may have a pair but I couldn’t be sure there were two as I only saw one at a time.) I have an old duck house which is an alternative nestbox for my hens when they’re allowed to free-range – there’s always one who appears to have some sort of allergy to laying in the coop – and it is now home to hundreds of woodlice. I also have many leftover stems and grassy cover in my borders:

…and the bird was systematically working its way inside and over the house, and up and along the stems to investigate every part for hiding insects. The great thing about the Big Garden Birdwatch (beyond the citizen science aspect) is the bliss of allowing oneself a whole hour just to watch the birds that normally pass momentarily across our vision as well as our consciousness.

I saw this lovely Instagram post, shared by my friend Sarah. I think it really highlights how plants for bees and butterflies can be incredibly valuable for other species too, like these goldfinches feeding on the seedheads of Verbena bonariensis. A prolific self-seeder, it’s fantastic if you’re wanting something with the habit of a tall grass but more bang for your wildlife buck. Our gardens are one of the last places we can really make a difference with what/when/how we do things so if at all possible, maximise the influence of each element for diversity.

If you would like to come along to my Gardening for Bees & Wildlife course via Zoom, please see the ‘Courses’ tab above.

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