I'M building houses in my back garden.
No, I haven't gone mad over the holidays but have received two new bird boxes for Christmas.
I will be placing them in the back garden in the next few days.
One of the joys of my early morning coffee is sitting by the kitchen window watching the birds in the garden having their breakfast from my range of bird feeders.
Birds are like people, at least when it comes to choosing somewhere to live: for many years ecologists have known that many birds prefer well-spaced large trees, with smaller trees, shrubs and herbaceous vegetation in the gaps just like our gardens. This provides food, nesting sites, protection from predators and somewhere to perch.
Advice from experts says it is best to grow a variety of different trees, shrubs and flowering plants to provide the diversity of natural foods that birds need, but with the size of modern gardens it's not easy to get the diversity that we need.
Bear in mind, when growing plants for birds, that berries and seeds provide food and flowers attract insects so birds can eat the insects too. Birds in my garden like the flowers of crocuses and early irises – I think they drink the nectar.
Favourite shrubs for protection and nesting could be prickly plants like hawthorn, blackthorn, firethorn or climbing roses. Honeysuckle and other climbers can also provide nesting places, insects and berries.
A lot of studies show that song birds readily use nest boxes and that these boxes can increase the breeding success so I've been researching the best positions for these new homes. Like people, birds don't like nest boxes too close together as this may promote aggressive behaviour between neighbours. Entrances to boxes (like our doors) should be sheltered from prevailing wind, rain and strong sunlight.
Most advice says that small-hole boxes are best placed 1-3m above ground on tree trunks or on the side of a shed or wall but making sure that it is not easily accessible to predators (cats and squirrels). My new boxes have a metal plate around the holes to deter squirrels from gaining access.
It also seems to be important to keep the boxes away from bird feeders – after all, who wants to live next door to a busy restaurant when you have young children?
We can also help the birds by putting out food for them (also protected from cats and squirrels). I do provide mealworms but most of the time these are eaten by a flock of very hungry starlings. Finches, sparrows, robins and tits seem to prefer seeds and peanuts but it does depend on the time of year.
The blackbirds also like mealworms but prefer them on the ground.
The woodpecker does seem to enjoy pecking into a suet block. I guess it's just his style.