You’re bored right now. We know the feeling. Pandemic fatigue has set in and the four walls of your home are feeling a little too familiar, even if the sun is shining and the end of lockdown dates have provided some light at the end of the tunnel. So what if you could bring the outdoors closer to home, even if you don’t have a garden? Flock Together asked Nathan Van Cooten, Assistant Ecologist for The Ecology Consultancy, to teach us how, as we edge into a prime time for nature.
For birds, these are the months when territory is claimed, mates are found, and nests are built. This busy schedule, compounded by harsh and increasingly unpredictable weather, means that birds need all the help we can give them.
“But I don’t have a garden, what can I do?” we hear you ask. Access to outdoor space is still a privilege that divides along racial and socio-economic lines. The majority of ethnic minorities in Britain live in cities, where green space is often lacking. A recent study found that black people in England are nearly four times as likely to have no outdoor space at home compared to white.
The current inequality is obvious and must be challenged, but there’s still plenty you can do in the short term. Chris Baines, the pioneering wildlife gardener, set out an important truth in his 1985 book, How To Make A Wildlife Garden. No single garden, he said, can provide all the needs for all the birds that live in the area. You should turn whatever space you have, no matter how small, into a wildlife service station. In this way, every balcony, windowsill or front yard becomes part of an interconnected life-support system for nature.
Levelling up your service station can be done by providing any of the three basic needs for all living creatures: food, water, or shelter.
Putting out food is perhaps something that you already do. But now it’s time to think beyond peanuts. Shop bought bird food is great, but homemade fat feeders work just as well and can be made cheaply using leftovers. For the green-fingered, growing native wildflowers can provide nectar and pollen for insects, which will in turn attract birds, as well as seeds for specialist seedeaters like the goldfinch.
Birds need water to quench their thirst and keep clean. Any windowsill can house something as simple as a shallow dish of water. Putting a rock in the center will allow over enthusiastic insects to escape if they fall in. Small hanging water dishes can be bought or made.
For anyone with a bit more outdoor space, disused barrels or other containers can be turned into microponds that will quickly attract all kinds of insects including diving beetles, damselflies and dragonflies (all major mosquito predators). After plants, insects are the most fundamental resource for birds; more insects equals more birds.
Late-winter/early-spring is nest finding and building time. Give your local birds a boost by hanging nesting material on washing lines, fence posts or branches of nearby trees. Organic things like twigs, leaves, grass cuttings or moss will work, but household rubbish like pet fur, human hair, pillow feathers or small pieces of string are just as good. Try to avoid anything that’s been treated with chemicals (like flea treatment for pets).
In the largely artificial environments we live, it’s vital to offer nesting opportunities for birds. House sparrows, starlings and swifts will all take to nest boxes, if you can put one up on your house or flat. And we have to applaud new developments that are being built with nesting bricks as part of the design. Doesn’t everyone want a bird as a neighbour?
These small acts of service add up. It’s estimated that the area covered by private gardens across the UK is greater than all the nature reserves combined. Add to this balconies, windowsills, front yards, and whatever outdoor space you can spare, and we have the potential to reverse the habitat loss that’s been experienced over the last 50 years.
No garden. No problem.