How to Attract Birds and Butterflies to Your GardenColin Campbell-Preston
One of the great joys of owning a garden comes when local wildlife turn your outdoor space into their home. It’s exciting when an unusual species of bird lands on your hedgerow or feeder, and a vibrant ecosystem can really bring your garden to live, helping flowers bloom and encouraging others to visit.
Birds and butterflies are among the most welcome visitors to our gardens, with their graceful displays and (in the case of the latter) tendency to pollinate our plants. Creating a bird and butterfly-friendly garden is something many of us green-fingered enthusiasts aspire to. So we have decided (whilst seeking the help of a pair of experts), to share the secrets about how to attract birds and butterflies to your garden.
Keep the Garden Green
All wildlife prefer environments which resemble their natural habitat, so will be grateful for fresh turf and plentiful flower beds instead of paving and patio furniture. Butterflies, in particular, will be enamoured by a garden packed with flowers which provide plenty of delicious nectar.
Richard Fox from Butterfly Conservation offers a little advice if you’re looking to pick a few butterfly-friendly plants.
“I recommend herbs for attracting butterflies. Flowering lavender is a magnet for the white butterflies, while Gatekeepers are particularly drawn to flowering marjoram/oregano. Flowers of Thyme and mints also very good. Aside from herbs, try Verbena, Red Valerian and, of course, buddleia. This summer I found the wildflower Common Fleabane to be particularly good at attracting butterflies in the garden. At this time of year, ivy flowers are a fantastic late source of nectar for butterflies such as Red Admiral and bees.”
Greenery is also beneficial for birds too, attracting smaller bugs which birds love to feast upon. If your garden is a welcoming environment for tiny, tasty bugs, it’ll see its fair share of bird visitors.
Overexposure to the elements can be dangerous for birds and butterflies, particularly at night or during winter. Providing shelter in your back garden can give winged visitors the chance to spend the night in safe and secure surroundings.
Katie Phoenix from the RSPB suggests positioning nest boxes around the garden.
“Nest boxes are excellent substitutes for the holes found in old trees and they provide a home for families of birds throughout the summer. In the winter, they’ll often be used as snug communal shelters to protect themselves from the cold.”
Butterfly boxes can also be built, although the winged insects are quite adept at finding small crevices in which to hide from the elements and predators.
Provide Food and Water
If you’ve followed Richard’s advice and rolled out flower bed after flower bed, then that’s the butterfly population’s breakfast, lunch and dinner sorted. But what about the birds? Nothing will bring the flocks flocking like a delicious plate of the good stuff laid out for the birds to enjoy. There are conflicting reports regarding what we should be feeding the birds in our gardens, some of it perfectly fine, but some of it harmful.
Some species have a taste for certain seeds and foods. So, if you know the local species you’d like to attract to your garden, you should be able to find the foods they consider a delicacy. If we were going to list them all here, we’d take all day but here’s just two examples – greenfinches love sunflower seeds whilst goldfinches prefer niger seeds.
So, to clarify which foods are best for the birds in your garden, Katie pointed us in the direction of the RSPB’s office guide. There were a few foods she was keen to stress are harmful to birds:
- Cooked meat fat
- Vegetable oil
- Dry biscuits
Putting out water is also incredibly helpful for the bird population, ensuring they’ve got plenty to drink and somewhere to bathe. During the cold winter months when any water outside is liable to freeze, it is important to regularly offer fresh, unfrozen water for the birds to keep them hydrated and happy. Like the blacklisted foods above, Katie also revealed that we should never leave milk out for birds as they can’t digest it.
Protect Birds and Butterflies from Predators
Making your garden welcoming to birds and butterflies can also encourage other animals to descend upon your outdoor space. Many of these may be predators (cats of the estate, we’re looking at you), so could be deadly for the bird and butterfly population.
Whilst pesticides are not particularly advisable if you’re attempting to create a friendly environment for all creatures, there are a few humane ways to keep the predator from the prey. Katie offered these pieces of advice for cat owners who don’t want their darling moggies attacking the local birdlife.
- The RSPB encourages cat owners to fit a collar with a bell.
- Birds are most active in the garden an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset, so it is helpful to keep cats indoors at these times.
- Place feeders high off the ground but away from surfaces from which a cat could jump.
- Position nest boxes where cats cannot reach them or sit close to them.
Butterflies are harder to protect as their predators are more varied and less domesticated. In fact, many bird species will even look upon butterflies as a tasty snack. But that’s nature.
Give Them the Best
From bird tables to servings of seeds and blossoming plant beds, all your garden provisions will be harshly judged by the discerning garden visitors. They won’t accept any old tat. That’s why at Capital Gardens, our wildlife and bird care range is packed full of products from respected manufacturers and brands, sure to please our winged friends.
And if you’re looking for more ideas and inspiration about how to attract birds and butterflies to your garden, or if you have any gardening questions at all, head down to one of Capital Gardens’ three store locations and have a chat with one of our friendly, experienced plant people.