Blue tits feed their young with greenfly, thrushes knock snails from their shells on a handy stone - birds are invaluable garden helpers in addition to the 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 brood. 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 another excellent shrub 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.
Pyracantha is pretty much top of the list for nesting and the varieties Saphyr Rouge ('Cadrou') AGM, Saphyr Orange ('Cadange') AGM (see right) and 'Teton' AGM 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 for the huge crop of berries. Perhaps think twice before planting them as they're favourites with wood pigeons which can be a problem in rural areas, especially for veg gardeners.
Other plants to consider are rambling roses, sea buckthorn, barberries and the vigorous clematis that you just allow to climb. But remember: no pruning during the nesting season.
Encouraging birds into your garden
Make a cake for birds
See our wildlife gardening blog