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Make your garden a haven for threatened birds

Last modified: 30 March 2013

Vegetable plot in garden

Image: Imago

Garden birds that are most in need of help could benefit from simple changes to how we manage our gardens, says the RSPB. 

Results from the annual Big Garden Birdwatch survey 2013, released this week, shows that numbers of house sparrows, starlings and song thrushes, some of our best-loved and most familiar garden birds, have fallen in gardens.  These are three red-listed species of the highest conservation concern that need our help the most, so the RSPB is advising how to manage gardens to support them.

The RSPB’s Adrian Thomas, author of RSPB Gardening for Wildlife, said; “Gardens can offer a real lifeline for wildlife.  Just doing a few simple things in our gardens can mean they provide food, shelter and nesting spaces for birds, which are most vital for the species that are struggling.  Temperatures are still quite low across the country, so birds do need all the help they can get as we progress into the breeding season.”

House sparrow: One of our most familiar garden birds but numbers of house sparrows recorded in the Big Garden Birdwatch have dropped by 63% since 1979*.   Adrian says: “What sparrows really need are gardens full of insects.  Try leaving some areas of grass to grow long.  You can still give it neat edges and make a design feature of it, but crucially this will allow certain insects to thrive and the grasses to set seed. Or why not plant deciduous shrubs where are likely to gather for a good natter, and they love a vegetable patch too.” 

Starling: Starlings have suffered an 82 per cent drop in numbers in the Birdwatch since 1979*. Adrian says: “In summer starlings seek out insects such as beetles, flies, flying ants and worms, and especially leatherjackets, so gardens with a lawn will help.  In autumn they love fruit like elderberries, so try planting an elder tree.  You could also put up a starling nestbox high up on the shady side of a house, which is a large box at least 25cm deep with a 45mm round hole.”

Song thrush: Song thrush numbers have dropped by 59 per cent since 1979*.  Adrian says: “Plant berry-bearing bushes and try to avoid sweeping up all the leaf litter as they’ll hop around in it, flicking over leaves to find food.  They like moist and shady areas, and will really benefit from a garden full of worms and snails, so keep up the mulches in your flower beds, which will help you control weeds too.”

Bullfinch: These are a shy but favourite garden visitor, especially the males with their bright pinkish chests.  But 7 per cent fewer bullfinches were seen in the Birdwatch this year compared to ten years ago.  Adrian says: "Nettles are not compulsory in wildlife gardening, but if you have space in your garden then this is one species that will thank you for a nettle-bed , as bullfinches do like the seeds, as well as areas of thick undergrowth. Nettles will benefit several butterfly species too, which have suffered terribly due to the relentless wet and cold weather last spring and summer.”

Do something now to help the wildlife in your garden, find out how at   or visit and to find out more about the Big Garden Birdwatch results.

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