Do One Thing is a regular series where we bring you a simple idea for reducing your carbon footprint and protecting the planet. The latest instalment: how to give birds a happy home in your garden.

The quintessential British garden would be nothing without its friendly feathered visitors. Their melodic chirping and charming behaviour has a wonderfully calming effect on the soul, and they’re a great indicator of the health of our natural surroundings, too. The healthier the environment, the more likely birds are to make it their home, and they're important for the wider ecosystem. Birds help to control pests, pollinate plants and spread seeds, all of which help plants and trees survive and thrive, which is critical in our fight against climate change.

According to the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, the humble house sparrow is the most prolific bird in the UK (for the 17th year running!), followed by the starling and the colourful blue tit. Rounding out the top 10 are the wood pigeon, blackbird, goldfinch, great tit, robin, long-tailed tit and magpie.

However, while house sparrows and starlings may be the UK’s most commonly sighted birds, a closer look at Big Garden Birdwatch data shows that numbers have in fact dropped dramatically since the Birdwatch began in 1979. According to the RSPB, house sparrows are down 53%, while starlings are down 80%. It’s a pattern echoed by two more garden favourites, with blackbirds and robins down 46% and 32% respectively.

The reasons behind these declines are complex and continue to be investigated, but fewer green spaces, pollution and a changing climate are just some of the challenges faced by garden birds. The good news, though, is that you can help. Here’s how.

Give birds a tasty treat

Food is the main reason birds will come to your garden, and experts advise putting food out all year around. There’s a bewildering array of bird seed products available but you can keep things simple with a mix of sunflower seeds, hemp and oats. Keep bird feeders off the ground and near to cover if possible, but away from potential predators such as cats and squirrels – try situating them above something prickly, or using a squirrel baffle to fend off foes.

Blue tits in particular seem to love dense bushes such as holly or ivy, and they’ll appreciate flowering plants and grasses that will attract the bugs they love to munch on. Robins, meanwhile, love fruit and berries, so consider planting fruiting plants if you’d like more of these cheerful visitors.

Water is important

Did you know that birds have no sweat glands so they don’t need to drink as much as mammals? Nonetheless, a supply of clean water for drinking and bathing is just as important to birds as food. The RSPB recommends a sloping bath with water between 2.5cm and 10cm deep, with a few pebbles to help birds in and out. A stylish stone bird bath is an obvious choice, but birds will happily splash around in anything – even a bin lid! If you really want to create an avian haven, though, consider a small water feature, as birds seem to be attracted to moving water. It can be difficult making sure the water doesn’t freeze during winter, but try popping a cork or light ball (such as a ping pong ball) into the bath – even the gentlest breeze will move it around, keeping some of the water ice-free.

Create a cosy home

Birds are industrious creatures and are quite capable of seeking shelter when they need it, often in surprising locations – birds will nest in everything from windowsills to wellington boots! Still, you can give them a helping hand by installing a nesting box or two. Dozens of varieties of birds will make use of them, and they encourage birds to mate and stay in the garden year after year. Keep boxes away from each other (birds are notoriously territorial) and in sheltered spots away from direct sunlight. Don’t worry about putting anything inside the boxes – they’ll take care of that – but you should clean them out once a year. Autumn is the best time for this – just make sure there’s no one home first!

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