Creating a Bird-Friendly Garden: Plants That Attract Birds in the UK

If, like me, you’re a bird lover wanting to attract more of our feathered friends to your garden, planting the right flowers and plants can make all the difference. Including plants that attract birds like berry-bearing shrubs to nectar-rich flowers, will provide a bird-friendly space that will attract a variety of species.

I love nothing more than watching birds playing in your garden. Not only does a bird-friendly garden gift us enjoyable moments, but it also plays a role in maintaining the bird population and diversity. Considering the vital role gardens play as havens for birds, especially in urban areas of the UK, I’m starting to transform a small green space into a sanctuary to attract birds who already enjoy my garden.

Aim to Attract Birds to Your Garden

So why not join other backyard bird enthusiasts and let’s start planning a garden that draws in a variety of native British birds, from the chaffinch to the blackbird, the robin to the sparrow. We’ll delve into the plants that birds find particularly appealing, whether for food, shelter, or nesting and how to incorporate these into your outdoor space.

Note that I’m neither a botanist nor an ornithologist. I am just someone who enjoys their garden and also loves the visiting birds. From personal experience, I can attest that witnessing your garden come alive with birds is truly rewarding.

So, please grab a cup of tea, curl up in your favourite chair, and let’s begin our exploration into the world of bird-friendly gardening in the UK.

Common Bird Species Found in the UK

Well, haven’t we all pondered, cuppa in hand, staring out of our kitchen window, just what type of feathered friend is chirping cheerfully in our garden? These are the main birds that I know in my garden. Do you have any others?

The Unrivalled Robin

Just about everyone’s favourite bird and is also known as the gardener’s companion. This chirpy chap, heralded as Britain’s National Bird, is a keen worm hunter and an absolute delight to observe as you potter about in the garden.

The Spirited Sparrow

Next, we have the House Sparrow. Don’t be fooled by their somewhat drab colours as their personality shines brighter than any plumage. Renowned chatterboxes, they love a good chinwag on your garden fence.

The Bold Blackbird

Blackbirds, despite their seemingly unimaginative name (I mean, they are indeed black birds), are melodious maestros. Their delightful dawn choruses can make early mornings more bearable, and the females, dressed in brown, love a juicy worm or a crunchy insect from your garden.

These are my second favourite birds and I always have a pair in my garden. It’s been the same pair for years (yes it is!)

The Charming Chaffinch

This is definitely the UK’s jauntiest jet-setter. This fella loves to show off his ‘double white’ wing bars in flight. They add a splash of colour to your garden, and their sweet song is the cherry on top.

The Woeful Wood Pigeon

Last but not least, the Wood Pigeon. It might lack the glamour of its smaller counterparts, but what it lacks in style, it makes up for in…well, sheer size. These robust rascals have a distinctive ‘cooing’ call you’ll likely recognize.

I love them in my garden as they love to walk up and down my fence to the great annoyance of my dog.

What Encourages Birds to Visit Your Garden?

So there we have it, a lively lineup of the usual suspects likely to grace your garden. Remember, birds are like us – they appreciate a tidy garden, plenty of grub, and a safe place to rest their weary wings.

Set the stage right, and you’ll have a garden teeming with these feathered celebrities, bringing life, colour, and delightful birdsong to your slice of the great outdoors.

Bird Behaviour and Preferences

Why do birds do what they do and how you can make your garden the go-to hotspot for the avian crowd? What will attract birds to your specific garden?

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

So apparently birds aren’t big fans of lie-ins. The early morning worm hunt is a serious affair, and you’ll often see Robins and Blackbirds digging about for their breakfast at the crack of dawn. So, to attract these early risers, make sure your garden is worm-friendly.

Plants That Attract Birds - blackbird with worm

Sing Like You Mean It

Birds don’t just sing because they’ve got a tune stuck in their heads. Their songs are actually complex language used for things like defending territory and attracting mates. So next time you hear a Blackbird’s tune, remember, it’s not a casual ditty but a heartfelt ballad sung with purpose.

Bath and Brush Up

Have you ever caught a Sparrow in your bird bath, splashing about like it’s in a luxury spa? Birds adore a good bath, and it’s crucial for their feather maintenance. A clean bird is a happy bird, and a garden bird bath is an excellent invite to this daily feathery fiesta.

You don’t need a full-on garden pond either. I have 2 fairly small containers for my water features and they both seem to attract birds throughout the day.

The Need for Seed

Birds, much like us, love a good meal. From seeds and berries to insects and nectar, different birds have different dietary preferences. Planting a variety of bird-friendly plants can turn your garden into the equivalent of a five-star buffet.

When they start coming into your garden, keep an eye on what birds eat. You can then grow the correct plants to attract birds already coming into your garden.

The Flock Factor

While some birds like the Robin are the lone wolves of the bird world, others, like Starlings and Sparrows, are all about the flock life. Providing ample space and food sources can make your garden a social hub for these chatty characters.

Unravelling the mystery of bird behaviour and preferences can make your journey as a bird-friendly gardener even more rewarding. When you tune into their world, you’ll realise the fun birds are having with your garden as the stage.

Benefits of Native Plants that Attract Birds

When it comes to choosing between exotic and native plants for your garden, birds chirp out a clear choice – go native! There are clear benefits of planting native plants for our UK-based birds if your aim is to attract birds.

Smorgasbord of Seeds and Berries

Native plants, with their variety of seeds and berries, are like the hip, organic supermarkets for our feathered friends. They offer the kind of nutrition that gets a Sparrow tweeting in satisfaction. So, if you’re planting for our winged buddies, think native.

The Bug Connection

As well as looking good, native plants also attract a fantastic array of insects, and let’s face it, who doesn’t love a juicy bug or a crunchy caterpillar? Well unless you happen to be on ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ we might not be so keen, but the birds simply can’t resist.

Home Sweet Home

Think carefully if you are considering planting trees in your garden. Nesting is a serious business in the bird world. You can’t just nest in any old tree; it’s got to be just right. And it turns out, UK birds have a strong preference for our native trees and shrubs to build their cosy nests. Plant a native, and you might just become a landlord for a lovely bird family.

Plants That Attract Birds Oak Tree

Survival of the Fittest

Native plants are like that reliable old friend – they stick around through thick and thin. They’re adapted to local conditions, so they’re more likely to thrive, whatever the British weather throws at them. And a flourishing garden means more resources for your feathered visitors.

The Birds and the Bees

Although we are trying to encourage our feathered friends into the garden, it’s not just about the birds. Native plants can attract other beneficial wildlife like bees and butterflies. And we all want to look after the bees, don’t we?

Plants That Attract Birds Lavender and Butterfly

So, going native isn’t just a trend but a way of making your garden a homely haven for our local birds. You will find that what’s good for the birds is also good for the bees, butterflies and, indeed, your garden as a whole. So get out that spade and pop a native plant in the soil. Sit back and watch as your garden is transformed into a bustling bird paradise.

Creating a Habitat: Layered Planting

If you are trying to encourage more birds into your garden, you want to consider layered planting. Your aim is to create a multi-layered bird habitat for your winged guests by using layered planting of the best plants for birds. Basically, you are just crafting a bird city, complete with food, shelter, and even scenic lookout points.

The High Rise: Trees

So start at the top. Large native trees such as Oak or Beech make great high-rise homes for many bird species. The benefits are things like nesting spots, seeds, and of course a great vantage point for our feathered friends to shout from the rooftops. The thick branches have features that attracts birds who will stay and build nests as they know they are protected by the thick foliage.

Mid-Levels: Shrubs and Small Trees

Moving down, we hit the mid-levels which include deciduous shrubs and small trees like Hawthorn or Elder. These are great for birds who like their privacy (yes, birds can be introverted too). Plus, many of these are brimming with berries which are a tasty treat for any visiting bird.

Ground Level: Herbaceous Plants and Grasses

Now we’re on the ground floor. It’s all about the herbaceous plants and grasses here, serving as a bug supermarket for birds with a taste for insects. Things like Daisies and Clover are simple but full of buggy goodness.

Benefits of Layered Planting

A garden with layered planting gives a proper bird metropolis. It caters to different bird species’ preferences and needs, increases your garden’s biodiversity, and looks pretty spectacular too. It’s a win-win for you and your bird visitors.

Getting Started with Layered Planting

You don’t need to be Alan Titchmarsh to master layered planting. Use what you already have as a great starting point. Got a large tree? Great, now think about adding some shrubs underneath. No garden is too small to start layering, even a balcony can host different plant levels.

Also, remember that it doesn’t have to be in your garden itself. I don’t have big trees in my garden, but have them just behind. Then I have a hedge of native shrubs just outside my wooden fence. I then have the smaller stuff in the garden itself.

With a little bit of planning and a dash of gardening enthusiasm, you can transform your garden into a thriving bird habitat with a multi-level retreat for your feathered friends.

Types of Plants To Attract Birds

So which are the plants that attract birds to the garden? Which types of native plants will have the birds tweeting your praises? How do we create the recipe for the bird equivalent of Mary Berry’s Victoria Sponge?

Trees and shrubs are great but maybe not practical in a small garden luckily the secret ingredient to attracting birds is a strategic selection of flowers.

The Bug Buffet: Oak and Willow

Oak and Willow are native trees which might not seem like an obvious choice to attract birds, but they’re great hosts for the insects that many birds love to eat.

The Berry Bonanza: Hawthorn, Holly, and Rowan

Birds love berry-producing plants such as Hawthorn, Holly, and Rowan as they are a nutritious food source, especially in the colder months.

Shelter and Safety: Ivy and Brambles

It may not be food-related but Ivy and Brambles give fantastic shelter and nesting spots for birds. Plus the birds do get delicious berries in the case of Brambles.

Floral Arrangements

There are several types of flowers that British birds find especially attractive because they provide a source of food or nesting material. Here are some top contenders:

Plants That Attract Birds Honeysuckle
  • Sunflower. Sunflowers aren’t just a ray of sunshine but are also rich in sunflower seeds, which seed eating birds like finches and sparrows love. Not only do they provide food, but their tall stalks can also be used by birds for perching.
  • Teasel. Teasels produce an abundance of seeds that goldfinches particularly enjoy. They also have a spiky structure that birds find ideal for nesting.
  • Honeysuckle. Plant this for more than just its beauty and lovely smell. Many birds are drawn to the sweet nectar of honeysuckle. Plus, its dense growth habit provides excellent shelter and potential nesting sites.
  • Buddleia (Butterfly Bush). Known for attracting butterflies, buddleia’s nectar-rich flowers are also a favourite of nectar-loving birds.
  • Echinacea (Coneflower). Echinacea flowers are not just beautiful; they also produce plenty of seeds hidden in their cone centres that birds enjoy. Goldfinches, in particular, are big fans of these seed heads.
  • Foxglove. Foxgloves have a double-whammy effect. The tubular flowers of foxgloves attract a variety of insects which draw insectivorous birds and their nectar is a sweet treat for any passing bird.
  • Lavender. Lavender is not one of the better-known plants for birds but its flowers attract insects, providing a food source for birds. Additionally, birds often use lavender twigs and leaves for nest building.
  • Cosmos. Cosmos might be the understated beauties of your garden, but their seed-rich centres are great for your feathered guests.

As it turns out, attracting birds to your garden can be as simple as adding some flower power. Where possible try to avoid growing non native plants or plants of an invasive species. When you grow plants you can add colour to your garden and also encourage many birds.

The key to a thriving bird-friendly garden is variety – a mixture of food, shelter, and nesting spots will ensure your garden is always aflutter with bird activity. Of course, bear in mind that you can feed birds with actual bird food! Just be careful where you put bird feeders so you can encourage birds but still keep them safe from predators.

Remember, creating a bird-friendly garden isn’t just about selecting the plants that attract birds. Providing fresh water and keeping cats and other predators at bay will not only help to make your garden a haven for birds but it will become a total wildlife haven.

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