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Birds: Gardeners Friend or Foe?

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Rock -dove -pigeon

It’s great to see birds in the garden - but when your garden’s as big as ours can birds start causing serious problems.

We asked Jaime Blake, Bressingham Head Gardener, to share the UK birds he likes most and the birds he’s least pleased to see in his Garden.

What birds are common visitors to Bressingham gardens?

There’s nothing spectacular about this in many ways - they're the mostly the same varieties that most people would see in their own gardens.

In order of numbers we get; Pigeons, Robins, Wrens, Blackbirds, Blue tits and Long Tailed Tits, Crows, Green Woodpecker and this year, much to my pleasure, we’ve had a few song Thrushes.

The Ivy on the house at Bressingham Hall used to be full of hundreds of sparrows nesting in there.  It was a major nuisance at the time, but both sparrows and dunnocks (which also used to be common) have both been in decline for quite to a while (Green finches too, unfortunately).

Are there any birds which cause you gardening problems?

Yes, there are - I would have to say it's the Pigeons that are the worst!

They particularly cause a problem with the plants called Herbaceous Phlox come in to growth in late spring.  Pigeons keep pecking away at them - so I now have to put chicken wire around them so they can’t get at them. Once the foliage has grown up around the Phlox the Pigeons seem to lose interest.

We have about a hundred groups of Phlox to protect, so the Pigeons cause us by far the most amount of trouble!

I think it’s also the Pigeons that go after the Wood Anemones, another spring flowering plant.

I suspect that there is some sort of race memory thing going on, where one Pigeon found out these were an easy food source and somehow this knowledge has been bred into future generations!

They are also very adaptable, for instance;  Blooms nursery next door to us has got a wide range of plants - if the Pigeons find something they like over there, the devils come and find out where it is in the Garden too!

Are there any birds that help you or provide some benefits in the garden?

On the face of it the Green woodpecker could be viewed as another pest as they create a few holes on our lawns - but these are made because they are after ants, which helps reduce the buildup of ant colonies,

The ants are usually in the lawns, but sometimes they're in the flower beds as well.  Their anthills can smother the shorter growing alpine-type plants, which can eventually kill them.

In complete opposition to what I said in the last section, Pigeons can actually be helpful as well - although farmers with fields of oil seed rape might disagree...

Oilseed rape is in the brassica (cabbage) family, which Pigeons love.  As it happens. there is a weed called Hairy Bittercress (sometimes called snap weed) which happen to be in the cabbage family too, so the Pigeons will come and eat those, partially redeeming themselves!

There are a lot of other smaller birds that will also go for this weed, as well-birds like Blue Tits and Great Tits, Blackbirds and Robins. But they have the advantage of not going after anything else (unlike the Pigeons) - so they are a plus-plus!

All of the Tits are good for keeping control of greenfly, so we feed them during the course of the winter when there's not a lot around, to try to establish a body of birds here.

Blackbirds, but more especially Starlings, go after pests like Leatherjackets that can damage the lawns by eating the roots of the grass.

The Robin, will come and eat the worms when we’re digging the soil, which isn’t particularly helpful, but they will also come and eat Vine Weevils, which are another root eater.

Song Thrushes (which I'm very pleased to see in the gardens recently) will go after Snails.

You can tell if there’s a Thrush eating snails in your garden if you find snail shells beside a rock or other hard surface.  That’s a sign the Thrush is using it as an anvil to whack the snails on to get at the meat.

So if you have a stone like that, make sure you leave it where it is as it is as it’s an established Anvil that they’re using.

Regarding Thrushes and snails it important that you don’t use slug pellets which could end up poisoning the birds. That’s something that shouldn’t be an issue much longer as slug pellets are due to be banned from 2020 onwards

Overall if you have a good bird population in your garden, it's a good indicator that you have a complimentary balance.  Even if it they occasionally become a bit of a nuisance - overall I’m glad they’re here!

Do you have any favourite gardening tips or stories?

Horticulture is such a massive subject we always welcome suggestions and experience from visitors.

If you do, get in touch and let us know – you can also do it on Facebook or Twitter.


By Alastair Baker at 2 Jun 2019, 00:00 AM