As well as food, wild birds will be looking for other facilities that will entice them to your garden. Birds need to be able to nest, they need somewhere to shelter away from bad weather conditions and they need to drink and bathe too. So providing them with nest boxes, bird baths and thick hedges is a good place to start.
Nest boxes are great substitutes for tree holes and you'll find that a lot of species will use them. Your location will determine which species you will attract, as will the type and size of the box.
When choosing where to put your nest box, always pick somewhere quiet, that is out of reach of cats (ideally in a place that cats cannot sit directly underneath) and between two to six metres up a wall, tree or fence. Try to face it between the north and east as this will avoid the birds overheating from strong sunlight from the south. Make sure that the roof of the box is tilted forward slightly so that any rain cannot get into the box. You should also place different types of nesting boxes in several areas of your garden — some higher and some tucked lower within vegetation with an open front — this will attract birds such as robins and wrens.
Although you are providing nest boxes for 'wild' birds, you should still clean them during the winter each year. This helps to prevent any build up of debris and also helps to get rid of any parasites such as fleas. To encourage birds to roost during the winter, add a little hay or wood shavings to the nest box.
Birds require water all year round — they need it to bathe and keep their feathers in good condition, and they need it to drink too. Birds that eat mainly seeds will need water as their diet is very dry, and birds that eat insects will need more water during the winter months because they won't be able to eat as much.
You can find birdbaths at local garden centres and some pet shops, although you can easily make your own. The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) recommends that you use a shallow dish or an upturned dustbin lid that's sunk into the ground, and placing a small rock in the middle helps the birds to reach the water easily. You will need to clean the bird bath regularly as there will be a build up of algae, dead leaves and bird droppings. Place your birdbath in a suitable location that has a few bushes nearby and a couple of perches that they can sit on and preen.
Remember to break up any ice in your birdbath in harsh weather, and if it is completely frozen remove all the ice and refill so that the birds always have access to some water. Refill your birdbath with clean, fresh water on a regular basis all year round.
Ponds provide water for birds too — ideally your pond should have a shallow side. Ponds will also attract other wildlife such as frogs.
One of the best ways to feed wild birds is with a bird table. Bird tables can be free-standing, hanging or they can be fixed to a wall or fence. They allow you to get a good view of its visitors and offers the birds some protection from any potential predators. A bird table that is covered with a roof is ideal as it prevents any food from getting wet in the rain. Place it in a suitable location that is in view from your house, and also close by so that you can put food out easily.
Your bird table will also need to be high enough so that a cat can't reach, and if you want to deter squirrels, place a plastic dome around the pole. To make sure cats can't climb or sit directly underneath the bird table, plant a prickly bush around the stand.
Winter is the most important time of the year to feed birds as this is when their natural foods are in short supply due to colder weather conditions. Therefore you must continue to feed them during the winter months and be sure to give them healthy amounts. Once you start feeding birds they will soon learn to rely on you as a source of food, so don't suddenly stop feeding them. Put a variety of food on the table and scatter some on the floor around it (if cats aren't also frequent visitors to your garden) — this will help you to attract different species as they each have different eating habits. Make sure you always have hanging seed and nut feeders too.
Clean your bird table regularly to avoid it getting dirty and spreading disease.
Different birds like to eat different things, and by putting a peanut feeder up you will attract species such as the blue tit. There will be lots of different types of feeders available in pet stores and garden centres — some will even have a protective cage around them to protect the smaller birds from predators.
Always hang peanut feeders from your bird table or lower branches of trees. Putting feeders in trees will provide shelter and protection for the birds. The peanut feeder must be mesh so as to avoid whole nuts being fed to chicks and causing them to choke. Clean them out regularly.
Many birds like to eat seeds, so hanging out a seed feeder as well as a peanut feeder will allow different species to eat the foods that they prefer. Seed feeders also come in different varieties and with a protective cage around them. Again, hang the feeder off the bird table or from a low branch in a tree, and make sure you clean it out regularly to avoid a build up of dirt and disease. Seeds will be available at most pet stores and garden centres.
Having different kinds of plants in your garden can encourage different species of birds to visit. Evergreens, fruit trees, colourful plants and wild flowers will not only look good but birds will love them. Having a tree such as a holly or birch for smaller gardens, or a willow or ash for a larger gardens, will help attract birds and some will choose to nest in the trees.
It is recommended that you take a more relaxed approach to gardening if you're trying to attract wild birds — avoid using chemical sprays so that smaller creatures and insects are available to the birds.
When plants start to die back, don't tidy and clean them up straight away as the birds won't be able to use the seeds — allow the plants to die back naturally and leave them a little while before you tidy them up. You may also want to leave piles of leaves and fallen fruit — as the birds will soon eat the fruit and either eat or use the leaves for their nests.