How to attract garden birds

As the seasons change the garden birds become more animated in our gardens. Jean Vernon suggests ways to attract more garden birds.

Eurasian bullfinch on branch

The wild garden birds are a wonderful addition to our gardens. Step outside for a short time and listen out for the beautiful birdsong that fills the air. Focus on the source and you will get to know a few of the visitors to your garden. Then you can take part in the Big Garden Bird Watch and share your findings to help the experts understand how well (or not) our wild birds are faring.

But not every gardener has a healthy population of visiting birds and some have just a few species that they see, feed and enjoy and would love many more. There are lots of ways to increase the variety of species that visit your garden.

How do you attract more birds into your garden?

Birds are wild creatures. Our garden birds are part of the magical diversity of nature. They are wild creatures and live naturally in the woodlands and hedges and countryside around our gardens. Even in suburbia the birds make the best use of the gardens and green spaces to raise their brood, live, feed and shelter. And that is the secret to attracting more birds to your garden. You need to provide an environment that provides the things that they need and in a safe way.

robin resting on branch in winter
Insect eating species like robins prefer to rustle through undergrowth searching for grubs and bugs. Image: Martin Mulchinock

But it is also very important to understand that different birds have different needs and that’s why your garden may only attract two or three species. If you want to attract a wider variety of birds you need to think about the needs of some of the others.

Dietary requirements

Our wild birds don’t all eat the same type of food. Some birds like the finches have seed cracking beaks designed to open beechnuts and feed on seeds and grain. Small, light birds like the tits and finches can hang acrobatically on the seed and nut feeders in the gardens, but other birds, often the insect eating species like the robins, blackbirds and thrushes prefer to rustle through the undergrowth searching for grubs and bugs. These birds might feed off a bird table but they are unlikely to hang off a feeder. They will feed on the food that drops from the feeders, but if you provide them with a ground feeder with a crumbly fruity suet ball, then they get extra nutrition from an easy to access source. Choose a top quality bird food such as Richard’s Premium Bird Food, that contains a wide variety of 13 different natural ingredients to suit the dietary needs of a wider diversity of birds and attracts more species to your garden.  

coal tit on suet ball feeder
Suet Balls are a magnet for coal tits.

A bird food that contains nyger seed, one of the favourite foods of goldfinches will attract these beautiful birds to your garden. A feeder of peanuts, a hanging block of suet bird food cakes or a tube of Suet Balls is a magnet for blue tits and coal tits. Sunflower hearts are a great source of energy rich nutrition and will attract a wide range of different birds including greenfinches. Sunflower seeds still in their shell need a seed cracking finch beak and will generate a lot of mess below your feeder. Look out for a bird mix that contains suet, it’s a super food for birds in the winter as it gives them a fast, energy rich source of nutrients. 

two goldfinches eating sunflower hearts from hanging feeder
Sunflower hearts are a great source of energy nutrition. Image: Martin Mulchinock

For a nutrient rich winter treat, why not install a tub of peanut butter for birds? Don’t be tempted to use your stash in the kitchen, it’s too salty. Smear some on a tree trunk or position the tub in a fork of the tree and sit back and see what birds start to visit.

Natural Food

Birds are attracted to our gardens for the natural food they provide. Berries and fruit in autumn attract a wide range of fruit eating birds like thrushes, blackbirds, waxwings and fieldfares. Seedeaters like the finches will pick the seed heads of teasels, lavender and even dandelions, while the fallen mast from beech trees is a magnet for chaffinches. Plant berry bearing trees and shrubs that will supplement the diet of your local bird population and also provide nesting and roosting sites for them. 

Waxwing resting on branch eating red berries
Waxwings are attracted to berries and fruit in autumn. Image: Martin Mulchinock

But don’t forget about the insectivorous birds. Robins and sparrows devour a huge tranche of garden mini beasts. Sparrows will catch flies in flight and robins will follow the gardener around watching for newly turned soil that might uncover some juicy bugs.

Wild side

Leave a little of the garden to go wild. Whether that’s the boundary hedge, a stand of ivy on an old wall, or a corner of brambles, it provides vital shelter for wildlife, allows insect populations to thrive and a place for birds to forage for food. Remember the rest of the food chain. It starts with the microbes in the soil, includes the mini beasts in the compost heap and links to the birds, the bats and the frogs and toads. The wildflowers support the pollinators, who are in turn food for predators like insect eating birds. It’s all interconnected and a healthy garden has a little of everything in balance. Let your garden grow with nature and watch what happens.

Water source

All wild creatures need a source of water and our garden birds are the same. Even in the depths of winter birds must drink and bathe. Provide a safe water bath for your feathered friends and garden wildlife. It will attract all sorts of creatures adding a new dimension to the garden. If you have room consider a pond or water feature, if space is tight a saucer of water is fine too. Keep it clean and free of ice in the depths of winter.

goldfinch on edge of bird bath
Provide a safe water bath for your feathered friends.

Little and often

If your garden is sparse on the bird front don’t suddenly put out masses of bird food. You need to attract them and show them that there is a safe, regular supply of food available. Put out a small amount and see what happens. If it is taken, add some more. 

Use a range of different ways to present the food. A bird table, a hanging feeder and a ground feeder are a good place to start. Keep the feeders and surfaces clean and beware of waterlogged seed that can clog feeders and turn sour. This will not be eaten and will repel the birds rather than attracting more. Once the birds have found your feeders they spread the word and you will enjoy a wider variety of garden birds.


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