If 2020 has one silver lining it is the resurgence in the popularity and revaluing of our gardens and green spaces. More and more people this year are discovering how wonderful gardens can be for our mental health during difficult times and at the same time, the delights of home grown produce or blooms and contact with nature.
In spring and through into summer, the gardens of the UK have been brimming with activity – not only have we been out in them more, but the wildlife we share these spaces with has been flourishing. Gardens offer a vital refuge within the wider network of towns and countryside, to many of our best loved species. As we enter late summer however, things seem a little quiet. Bees drone from bloom to bloom, butterflies bask, but the bird feeder swings un-occupied, abandoned and bereft in the middle of the flower border. A shy flutter below the bushes at the back of the garden, maybe a brief perch on the guttering above the back door… where have all the birds gone?
By August, the main rush of the breeding season is over, and fledgling birds are everywhere. Meanwhile, you may start to notice the first early signs of approaching autumn, and you wont be the only one! Late summer is the time when many birds go into their annual moult. Exhausted parent birds shed tattered and worn feathers, replacing them with fresh autumn/winter plumage. Some do this in preparation for migration.
Moulting is a dangerous time when birds are vulnerable to predators, especially when moulting their wing and tail feathers which effects their flying abilities. It is sensible therefore that the birds will keep themselves to themselves at this time, being less visible and skulking shyly in thick undergrowth.
Late summer is also the time of harvest and bounty – hedgerows brim with ripening berries and seeds, and insect numbers are high. There is little need for birds to come into our garden feeders when they have such a wide array of natural food to gorge on.
As the season progresses, the balance will tilt once more in favour of our gardens. Autumn migrants will arrive, hungry and tired. Natural food sources will begin to dwindle, and birds resplendent in fresh new plumage, will want to reclaim the prime territories ahead of the challenging winter months.
What to look for
Mixed flocks of tits roving in loose groups. There is safety in numbers and now the pressure of breeding is over it makes sense to band together to seek out food and watch out for danger. Other small song birds sometimes join the edges of these flocks; goldcrests and wrens are our two smallest uk bird species.
Harvested fields tend to contain leftover spilt grain seeds and this attracts game birds, finches and buntings. Birds of prey such as kestrels often hunt for small mammals at the edges of these fields too.
- Provide plenty of fresh water and keep bird baths topped up.
Birds need to drink and bathe daily, and water can be hard to find especially in hot weather. Place shallow dishes of water in shaded sheltered spots, (other animals such as hedgehogs will benefit from this too) and keep them regularly topped up with fresh water.
Where possible, collect and store rainwater, and re-use grey water* from your household activities to save precious resources. A watering can uses less water and gives you more control than a hosepipe, whilst sprinklers waste gallons of water a day. Keep plants well hydrated – if they are too dry, they will not produce as much nectar.
*Grey water includes any waste water such as from showers and washing up. A little soap isn’t a problem for most plants, but don’t use any water that contains harmful chemicals such as bleach. Why not take a bucket in the shower with you, to hydrate your favourite patio pot plants!
- Keep a small amount of food available.
Although there is a lot of natural food available at this time of year, birds may still come back to your feeders, especially if we have wet rainy days. young birds will be exploring new territories, and learning how to find their own food. Knowing where reliable food sources are will be invaluable to these youngsters later in the year. Only leave a small amount of food in the feeders to avoid wastage, and keep an eye on it – spoiled and mouldy food can spread illness among the birds that come to feed.
- Provide plenty of shelter
If you are lucky enough to have a larger garden, you may have hedges or shrubs and trees. keep these in good shape with regular watering and feeding were required (your local plant nursery can advise) and avoid hard pruning. Some birds will still be nesting. If you have a lawn, give your mower a rest, or raise the blades by a couple of settings, and left the grass grow a little longer. Not only will the grass be more resilient to drought, it will shelter invertebrates that birds and other creatures feed on. Autumn is the ideal time for planting new trees or hedges, so now is a great time to plan ahead if you want to add more wildlife friendly planting to your garden next season.