The Isle of Wight has long been recognised as benefitting from both a mild coastal climate and fertile soils favourable to the gardener
“In general such is the purity of the air, the fertility of the soil, and the beauty and variety of the landscapes, that this island has often been styled the Garden of England” – The History of the Isle of Wight, Sir Richard Worsley. 1781
This is one of a series of articles and anecdotes largely based around our work on the Isle of Wight and occasionally further afield
The presence of wild birds are one of the things that many people enjoy about their gardens but what do these birds like and how can they be encouraged?
Feeding birds is a good start, especially during the colder late autumn to early spring months, October to April. Place a bird table where it can easily be observed, ideally close to a thick hedge or some dense shrubs. This will help small birds to evade the predatory patrols of a marauding sparrowhawk, expect a few casualties though as the hawk needs to feed as well.
Choose a variety of foods such as seeds and nuts and fatty strips of bacon or fat balls as these will help to feed a broad range of birds. Putting the food out in the morning and during the early afternoon will allow plenty of time for it to be cleared up, spilled feedstuffs left on the ground after dark will encourage rats so is best avoided. Cease feeding during the spring as nature comes back to life, the natural foods that a good garden habitat will now provide is far preferable for the birds and their young.
Birds and other wildlife thrive in a litter free and slightly untidy garden. Variety is they key, areas of mown and unmown grass with an array of meadow flowers and clovers will be attractive to grazers, seed eaters and insectivorous birds which will feed on the invertebrates to be found there. Mixed borders of nectar rich herbaceous and flowering shrubs will attract a multitude of insect life too, whilst the damper environment of a decaying log pile will provide a home for creatures such as toads and woodlice.
Thick native hedging like Hawthorn will provide both dense nesting cover for many birds and autumn berries for migrants such as fieldfares to feast on. Nest boxes of different designs and sizes are available to suit both small birds even for the larger species such as Barn Owls, as a rule of thumb sight these out of direct sunlight and away from prevailing winds.
Don’t forget about water, a regularly filled birdbath is good but a wildlife pond is even better. Insects such as midges, dragon and damsel flies will feed birds such as swallows and swifts, whilst surrounding vegetation can provide nesting cover for aquatic birds like moorhens.