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Shrubs and climbers for nesting garden birds

If you want to attract nesting birds into your garden, provide an ideal home by selecting welcoming shrubs and climbers

Blue tits feed their young with greenfly, thrushes knock snails from their shells on a handy stone... birds are invaluable garden helpers. Plus there's the sheer joy of seeing them on our feeders and hearing their song. But where will they nest?
If nests are in your garden, then your borders will be the first place the adults search to feed their growing broods. You’ll be able to enjoy watching the fledglings as they make sense of their new world and, if nesting in your garden is successful one year, they’ll be back the next.

Birds need structure and cover to start building. They need sturdy branches, set at angles to foster nest building – although different birds, with their different nests, all have their own preferences. They also need cover – if predators can’t see the nests, then the next generation is safe from jays, cats and hawks.

It may not be fashionable to grow ivy on walls and fences, but it's an absolutely excellent plant for providing nest sites for colonies of house sparrows as well as robins and wrens.

Shrubs and climbers that grow in a tangle are much appreciated by some birds but eager pruners should leave the secateurs in the shed. Honeysuckles such as Lonicera periclymenum 'Serotina' are ideal. Blackbirds will also strip the loose bark from the base to help build their nests.

Brambles make dense thickets, but it’s a trade off: the birds appreciate the tangle of thorny branches but your crop will be more difficult to pick - although the birds will appreciate that too.

Pyracanthas are pretty much top of the list for nesting. Award of Garden Merit-winning varieties Saphyr Rouge, Saphyr Orange and Teton not only have a supportive branch structure, especially when grown on walls, but are unusually disease-resistant. Their pretty white flowers are followed by berries the birds love.

Elderberries are often used as sites for nests and will attract many birds with their huge crops of berries. However if you live in a rural area and have a veg patch, think twice before planting as they can attract wood pigeons which can be a bit of a garden pest.

Other plants to consider are rambling roses, sea buckthorn, barberries and the vigorous clematis that you just allow to climb.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.