Gardening with Daphne Ledward

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Time for the Big Garden Birdwatch

Next Saturday and Sunday is the Big Garden Birdwatch.

The good thing about this event is that even if you only have a balcony – or even just a local open space where you can watch birds – you can still take part.

All you have to do is record the highest number of each bird species you see at the same time in one hour. They must have landed, though, those flying over don’t count.

Looking at adverts for bird feeds and accessories, you would think attracting birds to the garden is a complicated and costly business; indeed, if I bought specific feeds, feeders and other gadgets for every species likely to visit, it would cost me more each week than it does to keep four big dogs happy. However, over the years, I have found that you will be popular with most garden birds with a minimum of outlay.

First, you need a flat, elevated platform on which to put suitable kitchen scraps and a good quality mixed bird feed. A basic bird table or hanging shelf (to suspend from a tree) is ideal. Another flat surface at ground level for those birds that prefer to feed low-down is useful, though not essential, as you can scatter the feed on the path for ground feeding visitors (be careful if you think this might provide an easy hunting ground for cats, though).

Then, some fat ball holders – the best fat balls are those without plastic nets; these nets can be a hazard to some birds and will litter your garden and your neighbours’ once they’ve been emptied. A couple of peanut feeders and some peanuts (they don’t have to be fit for human consumption) and, if you’re really keen, a sunflower seed holder and sunflowers will widen the range of species that might appear. These can also be hung in tree branches, but if you don’t have a tree, they can be hung on just about anything suitable with some S-hooks.

Berrying shrubs can be included in virtually any situation if you plant them in containers – birds aren’t fussy if they’re growing in the ground or not. Leave some seed-heads on ornamental grasses and herbaceous plants when you tidy up in autumn, and don’t clear up all apple and pear windfalls, and come the Big GardenBirdwatch weekends, which happen every year at this time, you should have plenty to count.