Birds play a vital part in a 'plant growing ecosystem' (whether it is a garden, balcony or allotment) and it is therefore very important for children to get to know them better.
A great way to do get children to observe birds in their natural environment is by making the outdoor space more attractive to them and there are many ways to do so. If a garden or outdoor space feels like home (water, food and shelter), birds will naturally be attracted to visit and spend time in it, giving children plenty of opportunities to observe them.
Winter is a particularly harsh time for those birds that do not migrate to warmer climates. It is therefore the perfect time to give them a helping hand finding food and shelter. Here are a few ideas on how children can have fun while supporting their garden birds.
1) Make a bird cake
A great activity for children to do during the winter months to support birds is to make yummy bird cakes. Different birds like to eat different things so before starting check out what type of birds would normally visit your garden and prepare the treats accordingly. This page on the RHS website is very helpful in describing what different birds like to eat.
In our garden we have been using bird cake feeders from ashortwalk, refilling them regularly with new bird cake. However, we have also tried to make some using plastic containers from my recycling bin, vegetable suet and a mixture of seeds and other ingredients that our wild birds might like. Click here to see how we did it!
2) Planting for bird food
Children love making bird feeders and watching the birds eat from the feeders but have you thought about sowing seeds that will grow into plants that birds can feed on?
Birds love feeding on teasel and echinacea dried flower heads so why not start growing some this weekend, enjoy them over the summer and leave the flower heads on for birds to feed on next winter. Remember to keep them indoors or in a greenhouse until the risk of frost is over.
Also, if you are growing sunflowers next year, don't forget to leave the flower heads on for as long as possible as birds love eating their seeds.
3) Provide shelter
During various times of the year, birds need places where they can hide from predators, create a nest and safely look after their chicks. Mini gardeners can help them with this by both planting shrubs and hedges and by putting bird houses up in their outdoor space.
Shrubs like holly, ivy, hawthorn, honeysuckle, rowan and cotoneaster are fantastic habitats for birds. They offer protection as well as food. Some of these plants can be challenging with younger gardeners (e.g. holly berries are poisonous and hawthorn is spiky) but others like honeysuckle are more child friendly and support other wildlife in the garden too.
Bird houses come in all shapes, sizes and colours, they can be bought premade, in pieces to be assembled or can be made from scratch with scraps of wood. The Wildlife Watch website has a great activity sheet on how to make a bird house from scratch. Ideally bird houses should be painted in neutral colours so that it is camouflaged with the surrounding environment.
The RSPB has a fantastic website with loads of info and a good starting point is their page on how we can help garden birds:
Wildlife Watch has a number of activity sheets on how to make bird cakes, feeders and nest boxes: