Despite the name, you don't actually need your own garden to take part a Big Garden Birdwatch. In today's blog, Scott Shanks from our Conservation team tells us about how he's making a home for nature in his flat in Glasgow.
Living in an area of urban Glasgow where few people have their own garden, I know the very real frustration of trying to do a Big Garden Birdwatch count while your neighbours are taking turns chasing their cute lockdown puppies around the bird feeder station in the back court. ‘Not now Jinx!’, ‘Down Bailey!’ ‘Aaargh! Loki!’
Thankfully, my first floor flat has a wee south-facing balcony that overlooks the backcourt. Despite being just 2.6m long x 1.2m wide, it’s packed with wildlife-attracting features that lure-in a good range of garden birds and other wildlife. It has a weeping Kilmarnock willow, bee hotels, a mini-compost bin, log pile, bird feeding station and a bird bath. Luckily, I also have a clear view from my kitchen of the bird feeder station in the back court: a lovely crab apple tree with feeders and a hanging bird table.
Like many people, Scott expects to see plenty of house sparrows during this year's Birdwatch. Photo credit: Ben Andrew
Over the last 2 years, it’s been nice to see more and more bird feeders going up outside windows and dangling from balconies on my street. I’m sure more than a few of my neighbours will pop to local parks (Kelvingrove Park or Yorkhill Park) to take part in this year's Big Garden Birdwatch, while some will be recording feathery visitors to their own window feeders.
On my balcony I provide peanuts and sunflower hearts in autumn and winter, along with halved apples, pears, the occasional handful of sultanas (be careful with dogs and dried fruit!) and heel of stale bread. I tend not to provide food on the balcony during spring and summer to try to reduce flower trampling by pigeons, but fresh water is available on the balcony all year round. I’ve found that providing dried mealworms on the balcony isn’t the best way to charm your new neighbours below.
In the backcourt, my neighbours and I keep at least one feeder topped up with birdseed all year round (up to 3 in winter). I’ve a couple of spare feeders which allows us to swap over the feeders for cleaning regularly. This is incredibly important to reduce the risk of spreading diseases such as Trichomonosis. In winter we also fill peanut feeders, and provide fat balls and fruit. Annoyingly, my last 2 nyjer seed feeders both vanished shortly after going up, (presumably student pranks or very clever urban foxes), so sadly I haven’t seen a goldfinch or siskin in the garden for a couple of years.
Top balcony plant recommendations: Kilmarnock willow (as big as you can fit, but make sure they get enough water in summer). My willow is underplanted with oxeye daisy, white dead nettle, feverfew and spring crocuses and grape hyacinths for pollinators. In other window boxes and containers I have perennial wallflower (flowers all year round), verbena bonariensis (love the swaying stems), garlic mustard and pots of trailing white clover, nasturtiums and sweet peas, which grow through the balcony railings.
Even a window ledge can become a haven for wildlife with a few tweaks. Photo credit: Scott Shanks
What am I expecting to see during Big Garden Birdwatch 2022:
Lots of sparrows! There can often be 40+ house sparrows including chicks in the garden in mid-summer, and I’ve counted an amazing 26 on the balcony on one occasion, but 12-20 are more likely in January.
Other regulars to garden and balcony: Feral pigeons (up to 15!), bluetits (4 max), blackbird (4 max), jackdaw (4 max), magpie (4), grey squirrels (4), carrion crow (3), wood pigeon (3), great tit (2), coal tit (2), robin (2), dunnock (2), wren (1),
Occasional visitors: Starlings (8 max), lesser black-backed gull (6 max), herring gull (4), song thrush (2), mistle thrush (1), goldcrest (1),
Rare visitors to the garden: Redwing (8 max), common gull (2), long-tailed tits (3), sparrowhawk (1), raven (one in January 2022!), greenfinch (max 2, but last one was about 12 years ago!), goldfinch (7, but last one was about 4 years ago), siskin (1 about 15 years ago).
Whether you have a balcony, a garden or even just a window ledge, we'd love for you to join us in this year's Big Garden Birdwatch. Click here to find out more.
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